By Zoey Erdenebileg
The Career Development Office (CDO) has spearheaded a new policy that will grant academic credit for internships to students who have taken a class specifically engineered to focus on internship experiences. The change comes almost a year after CDO Director Scott Layson initially conceived the idea. Through extensive collaboration with the Committee on Academic Standards (CAS) and the Curricular Policy Committee (CPC), Layson is finally implementing the policy.
The new class, “Experiential Learning 205: Connecting Academic and Intern Experiences,” aims to “aid students in the identification and pursuit of internship opportunities” and “to offer students the opportunity to formally connect the internship with [their] academic interests,” according to the syllabus.
EXPL 205, which counts for 0.125 credits, seeks to make internships worthy of credit by magnifying their academic aspects. It will focus on the academic merit of internships before granting credit. “This is a symbiotic relationship between the academics and the work that [the student] is doing on the internship to achieve the credit,” Layson said.
The class will give students the necessary tools to pursue summer internships. When they return in the fall semester, students will write required reflection papers that connect their internship experiences with their academic goals. Upon completion of both an internship and a reflection paper, each student’s enrollment status will change from auditing to a pass on the pass/D/fail scale. The reflection paper counts for 50 percent of the final grade, ensuring that a student cannot pass without successful completion of the paper.
In addition, the course requires students to draft descriptions of how their internships will fit in with their academic plans. Participants must also create internship evaluation rubrics to be completed by their internship supervisors, and they must prepare resumes and cover letters. Additionally, students are required to refine their “virtual presence” – professional, online profiles.
A faculty sponsor must approve both the learning plan and the reflection.
“This seemed like a really nice way to structure the course, so that students could take the course [and] be able to pursue internships, and then it would be up to them if they wanted to finish the course when they got back,” said William Melick, professor of economics and chair of CAS. “They could finish the course [and] get the academic credit. … The employer would be happy, we’d be happy [and] the Department of Labor would be happy.”
Previously, there was no effective policy regarding academic credit for internships. Melick recognized the need to address the issue when he was serving as chair of the economics department. The problem first arose when an economics major was pursuing an unpaid summer internship at a Michigan branch of Huntington Bancshares, a Midwestern banking institution. Her application was accepted on the condition that Kenyon sign an agreement that would grant her a specified amount of academic credit.
“I said [to her], ‘This is above my pay-grade; I can’t just hand out Kenyon credit like it’s Christmas’ … so then I sent it to the provost,” Melick said. The situation escalated to the point where President Georgia S. Nugent had to step in. “You shouldn’t have the person who’s running your institution involved in negotiation over whether or not an intern will get credit,” Melick said. “That’s ridiculous. We need[ed] a policy.”
In the past, when employers asked for credit, the registrar sent them a letter that stated the student would be granted “non-degree credit.” This credit could not be used toward Kenyon credit and did not appear on transcripts. “Under the new interpretation of the Fair Labor Standards Act, that letter was no longer passing,” Melick said.
The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (FLSA) addresses overtime pay, minimum wage and child labor laws. The Department of Labor’s reinterpretation of FLSA rendered the “non-degree credit” letter useless. Fearing that companies were exploiting free labor from interns, the Department of Labor began to require that firms compensate their interns with payment or academic credit. Some firms, like Huntington, decided to require colleges to grant interns credit rather than providing monetary compensation. “Both CAS and CPC thought that the issue was worth looking at because we thought that it might be the case that this was [going to be] coming up more and more often,” Melick said.
The College created a subcommittee consisting of members of CAS and CPC to focus on the issue. In consultation with Layson, the subcommittee created EXPL 205.
Kenyon is late in adapting an internship credit policy compared to its peer instituations. Similar schools like Oberlin, Vassar and Carleton Colleges have policies in place. Some, like Oberlin and Bucknell College, require students to pay a fee. Oberlin’s fee is relatively affordable, $50, but Bucknell’s fee reportedly exceeds $1,000 in some cases. At both schools, internships must be unpaid in order to grant credit. Kenyon’s policy does not differentiate between paid and unpaid internships.
“Fundamentally, Kenyon should care about the learning. Whether you’re getting paid or not probably has not much to do with the amount of learning you’re going to do,” Melick said.
Student reactions to the new internship credit policy have ranged from ambivalence to excitement. Some question the need to complete a class that would count for so little credit. Others, like Mark Larus ’13, discount their personal need for the class but agree that receiving credit would open up internships that were previously closed off.
For other students, the change means much more. Daniel Akuma ’14, as an international student, is limited by the stipulations of his student visa. He cannot work for payment outside of Kenyon, yet most firms would not accept him on a voluntary basis. Like many other international students, his only option to intern in the U.S. in return for academic credit, an option he finally has.
Akuma, who is currently enrolled in EXPL 205, will be interning as a researcher at the Ohio State Comprehensive Cancer Center – the Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and the Richard J. Solove Research Institute. “I’m so excited for this class,” Akuma said.
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