Wednesday, September 18

All work, no pay makes intern class a dull choice

I’m not against the idea that young people have to give a
lot of their work away for free. Even before college, volunteer
work seems like a prerequisite to give off the impression of the
well-rounded student for college admissions. But when does it start
to get ridiculous? Enter the unpaid internship. California labor
laws require students who work unpaid internships with companies
(nonprofits and government internships are exempt) to receive
college credit, ensuring that students get something out of their
internships in addition to the valuable career experience. But
requiring students to sign up for college credit is a system that
exploits the eagerness of student interns by essentially making
them pay for the opportunity to work. And it isn’t cheap.
According to a May 5 Daily Bruin article, receiving course credit
through UCLA can cost as much as $585 for four academic units
(there are also options to take two-unit courses) which are
administered through the UCLA Center for Community Learning.
Interns must complete coursework relating to their internship
experiences to get credit. The current system also puts students
who are rich in enthusiasm ““ but aren’t, well, rich
““ at a disadvantage. The pool of paid internships is getting
smaller as more companies are going the unpaid route, so their
options are increasingly limited. As reported in a June Wall Street
Journal article, the number of companies requiring college credit
for unpaid intern work has risen between 30 and 40 percent in the
past five years. But just because it costs a lot doesn’t mean
it is valuable. In addition to being expensive,
credit-for-internship programs may be an inefficient way to use
your units. The internship courses at UCLA fulfill degree
requirements by contributing to the 180-unit minimum for
undergraduates in the UCLA College, which most of the internship
courses fall under, but they do not necessarily fulfill
requirements for one’s major.

For example, taking the four-unit political science course that
corresponds to an internship covers an upper-division elective. But
the course does not cover any specific requirements for the
economics degree. Most students would rather take classes that
cover as many bases as possible. According to the Wall Street
Journal article, schools are reluctant to give academic credit for
internships that may have little to do with a student’s major
or are not academic in nature, so it’s right an internship
course does not have the same weight as a course that covers major
requirements. And considering that many students in the UCLA
College take on a minor or another major, meeting that 180-unit
minimum isn’t difficult. They probably have a hard time not
going over the unit cap, so taking classes outside of their
disciplines and having excess units may actually hurt them. UCLA
isn’t to blame ““ it’s just complying with the
laws. The rationale behind having students receive college credit
for unpaid corporate internships, as explained to me by Kathy
O’Byrne, the director of the Center for Community Learning
which administers the internship courses, is to protect students
from potential abuses. For example, employers may demand excessive
hours from unpaid interns, and eager-to-please interns will usually
oblige. Through the university, students are able to say that as a
condition of receiving credit, the number of hours is limited. The
internship courses also ensure that students are actually learning
something from their internships. Reporting on what’s
happening at the internship can show that interns aren’t
spending their time honing their coffee-making or collating skills.
California labor laws do not need to regulate internships the way
they do now. Instead they should be changed to give students more
of a choice. There needs to be a change in labor laws so that
students can work at unpaid internships without having to receive
college credit. Right now, the law is not clearly defined regarding
hours, leaving universities to define the parameters of internship
work. The law should be changed to clearly define and standardize
the number of hours and the duration interns can work so it
doesn’t displace paid workers. Students must also recognize
that there should be a limit to their eagerness, especially if
they’re asked to work more than paid employees or if the
internship just doesn’t look like a chance to gain skills.
After all, internships are becoming more of the norm.
Shouldn’t college students expect training instead of just
resume padding?

E-mail Lee at [email protected] Send general comments to
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