Issues in the Internship: The Once Timeless Summer Institution for College Students Is Facing Decline

By Sturat, Reginald | Diverse Issues in Higher Education, June 16, 2016 | Go to article overview

Issues in the Internship: The Once Timeless Summer Institution for College Students Is Facing Decline


Sturat, Reginald, Diverse Issues in Higher Education


College internships, once considered an extra asset in a student's bid for workplace experience and college funds, have today become almost as important as classroom work in helping students successfully "test drive" the world of work and distinguish themselves as the best full-time job prospect.

"Unless you graduate with significant work experience already under your belt, you are not going to be happy with the job market," says California business executive Matt Stewart, co-founder of College Works Painting. He credits his odd jobs throughout high school and his college internship work for his success as an entrepreneur.

"If college students can develop leadership skills and real-world business experience, it opens up enormous opportunities for them," says Stewart, whose enterprise now provides paid internships for nearly a thousand college students each summer.

Stewart's praise of college internships echoes that of recruiters and college career officers across the country. While touting the value of college internships, they are also expressing concern and worry that internships may be in trouble for a variety of reasons, not all of which are fully understood.

Decline of internships

Hiring for full-time jobs is steadily rebounding from the nation's economic decline that hit in 2008, according to leading government and private employment surveys.

Internship hiring, which has historically tracked the ups and downs of full-time employment patterns, appears in trouble, however. It is down for the second year in a row, according to a forthcoming internship employment forecast from the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), a career officers and employers group.

"There is no single reason for it going down," says Kenneth Tsang, research associate at NACE. "It's a perfect storm."

In its recent surveys of employers on the job outlook for college interns, many employers say they had reduced internships, some citing organizational and budget reasons. Recruiting and hiring college students for paid internships cost money when done well, Tsang and others note.

Behind the widely reported economic and organizational reasons offered by employers for not hiring as they used to is a longer list of less talked about yet equally troubling trends. They mask other key factors that figure into today's troubling college internship picture.

Student interest in working is a problem among millennials, say college career center directors and intern employers such as Stewart. Community college students may be an exception, some insist, since most "balance" work and school and may better recognize the importance of both.

"They [many of today's college students] don't have a work ethic," says Melony Washington, coordinator of student affairs and employer relations at the Florida A&M University (FAMU) Career Center, echoing the sentiments of some peer professionals around the country. "It's widespread, a global epidemic a lot of universities are facing."

Audrey Magnuson, director of the Career Center at the University of Texas at San Antonio, notes the same mood among some students working college internships.

In addition to working to sync student class and recruiter schedules, Magnuson says it is not uncommon to feel compelled to remind students that internships are real jobs with real expectations by students and employers.

"They don't treat this like a real job," Magnuson says of some students who dropped out of internships or were terminated early. "You have to show up for work. It's a reality check for students."

At Penn State University, Joseph Selden, a veteran career counselor and assistant dean for multicultural affairs, illuminates the points made by his peers in other parts of the country.

"It's almost like an apathy," Selden says of many of today's college students. …

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