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  • Helping International Students, Others Meet Internship Requirements

    October 10, 2018 | By NACE Staff

    Internships
    An international student hopes for an internship.

    TAGS: immigration, best practices, internships, international students, spotlight

    Spotlight for Career Services Professionals

    Several colleges and universities have developed no-cost for-credit and zero-credit internship courses, and grant programs to help international students become eligible for curricular practical training (CPT) and other students whose internship employers require that they receive course credit.

    Here, Macalester College and Wesleyan University share their approaches to assisting these students:

    Macalester’s Full-Tuition/Full-Grant Program

    Macalester College has a large international student population of approximately 16 percent. These students—fueled by their desire to maximize their academic experience and fulfill requirements of federal immigration laws—want and need to do internships for academic credit. Although the college’s urban setting in Saint Paul, Minnesota, affords students the opportunity to do internships throughout the academic year, Macalester doesn’t have classes in the summer.

    “Therefore, we also have no summer financial aid program,” explains Michael Porter, Macalester’s internship director. “Anybody who earns credit in the summer normally has to pay for the credit out of pocket. Back in 2006, it was about $800 a credit, meaning a student who got a paid internship would have to pay $800 for the right to make $1,200, which seemed kind of silly.”

    That year, Porter worked with the provost and international student program to develop Macalester’s Full-Tuition/Full-Grant Program, which, he says, was designed to remove a financial barrier to students having a valuable experience.

    “It wasn’t for them to earn free credit,” he stresses. “They could now enroll in a one-credit internship and we would then be able to authorize their internship through the curricular practical training program so they could work legally, and our office could monitor their work and formally support them all the way through.”

    Initially intended to meet the needs solely of Macalester’s international students (most domestic students simply have the option of doing an internship without earning credit), Porter and his team recognized that there were also students engaged in internships whereby earning academic credit was a condition of employment, particularly in the media industries, some government sectors, and the finance industry. Macalester’s Full-Tuition/Full-Grant Program was expanded to include these students.

    “Basically, anybody who was being required by an external entity to do something for academic credit would qualify for this program,” Porter explains. “We could enroll students who were doing an internship as a condition of employment and who could provide documentation of this requirement.

    “Qualified students register their internship for one credit and then financial aid provides an ‘internal grant’ to pay for that credit. It has worked out exceedingly well, with little real cost to the college outside of some faculty development funds directed to faculty sponsors for taking on that role with students.”

    In recent years, there has been a sharp increase in program participation. In 2007, the first year the Full-Tuition/Full-Grant Program was operating, 49 students participated. The annual number stayed in the 40 to 60 range until 2014, when it jumped to 90. The past three summers, however, the numbers climbed to between 135 and 150 participants.

    “There have been a couple catalysts for this,” Porter notes. “Our international students are now being advised by immigration experts to do all internships for credit, whether they are paid or not so they’re safer from any kind of accidental violation of immigration law.”

    Macalester also developed a summer internship grant program that provides college funding for unpaid internships. These grant recipients have been rolled into the Full Tuition/Full Grant program as well.

    “We decided that if the college is providing the funds for a student’s experience, we want oversight to make sure it’s a quality experience and that we have the ability to provide support,” Porter says. “In a sense, we’re protecting our investment.”

    Porter estimates that 95 percent of the students who earn credit during the summer do so through the Full-Tuition/Full-Grant Program. The biggest challenge associated with the program, Porter says, has been a matter of scale.

    “We wanted to use this program to help out a broader range of students,” he says. “It has definitely done that, but it means we’re a whole lot busier than we used to be. Summer used to be a time to catch up on things and work on projects. It’s not so much anymore, but that’s okay.

    “It’s really about how we manage the larger number of students in the program. This all works because my office operates all summer anyway. I’m overseeing this program, so it’s easy to fold students into it. We have an established process by which we can manage this: develop learning contracts, gather evaluations, involve faculty members, and encourage reflection and connection to their course of studies. It’s reasonably manageable.”

    Porter says the Full-Tuition/Full-Grant Program is an example of the commitment Macalester has to helping its students, both financially and in terms of providing services.

    “It was obvious that having students not be able to do internships during the summer was really putting them at a disadvantage,” he says. “We worked hard with our administration to communicate that it’s a true benefit that enhances their education. We had some good support on that end. We also had to work with our financial aid and registrar’s office to make sure they understood that there was sufficient value to make it happen. They were on board, as well, so we were fortunate. Most importantly, it has been a true benefit to our students.”

    Wesleyan’s Quarter-Credit Internship Course

    In 2012, Wesleyan implemented its quarter-credit internship course after determining that there was demand for this option from students whose internship employers required that they receive course credit, as well as from international students who wanted to be eligible for CPT.

    This course is seen as complementary to, though separate from, the Wesleyan Summer Grant program, which provides funding for students to complete unpaid or low-paying career-related summer experiences, including internships, research, independent study, and volunteer opportunities.

    “On our campus, a typical semester-long course is taken for one credit,” explains Sharon Belden Castonguay, director of the Gordon Career Center at Wesleyan University. “Students can register to receive a ‘quarter credit’ for their internship and may take the course up to two times. Wesleyan does not charge tuition for this course.”

    There are approximately 2,900 undergraduates at Wesleyan; on average, about 90 students each year register for the internship course. Though it is offered year-round, summer has the highest enrollment.

    Before they can enroll in it, students are required to go through a multi-step registration process. First, they complete an enrollment form for the Gordon Career Center that provides staff with detailed information about the internship and their reason for pursuing it. Once staff members verify a student is in good standing with the university, they ask the student’s supervisor to complete an internship description form, confirming the information the student submitted as well as providing details, such as compensation, hours, and projects to be completed.

    “Because this course is required for international students to receive CPT, these two forms are essential to make sure the opportunities are relevant to their respective majors,” points out Sarah McNamara, Wesleyan’s associate director for internships and campus recruiting. “We also require that employers confirm that they have reviewed ‘Fact Sheet #71: Internship Programs Under the Fair Labor Standards Act.’ After we review the information, we enroll the student into the course.”

    During their internships, students complete career-related assignments in order to pass. Career center staff also follow up with supervisors to ensure students are completing the required number of hours worked and to verify they are contributing to the organization.

    “The primary goal is to allow students the opportunity to complete internships for which they might not otherwise be eligible, either due to employer requirements for credit or as a result of visa restrictions,” Castonguay notes. “But it also gives students the ability to reflect on their experiences in a meaningful way.”

    Castonguay says the most important measure of the effectiveness of Wesleyan’s internship course is enrollment. Registration numbers, she says, have been consistent for years, indicating that there is ample demand for this sort of option.

    “The course’s ‘effectiveness’ lies in the ability for international students to complete CPT and for students with internships that require course credit to accept them,” McNamara says. “However, the course assignments are geared toward career development. Students must set goals, update their resume, practice interview skills, and write a reflective essay. These are completed during the internship to help the student build upon the skills they are learning and reflect upon their experience in real time.”

    She adds that supervisors are required to submit an assessment form summarizing the student’s work throughout the internship. Supervisors also complete an assessment form that certifies that students have gained insight into the work of their organization and its professional field. The supervisors then rate students on a scale of 1 (not satisfactory) to 10 (exceptional) to indicate the level the student complied with the terms of the internship as originally presented, and performed the expected duties and responsibilities of the internship role.

    One significant challenge Castonguay and her staff has encountered is that the Gordon Career Center recently assumed oversight for the registration process.

    “We had no time to make changes to the process so that it would align with our systems and operations for Summer 2018,” McNamara says. “As we are not an academic department, we do not have access to course registration systems; while we send course enrollment forms to the registrar, we cannot ourselves confirm that students are registered.”

    Another challenge is assigning deadlines for enrollment and assignment completion, as students start their internships at different times throughout the year. The Gordon Career Center currently offers two separate summer enrollment deadlines to accommodate students who finalize their internships later into the summer.

    McNamara explains that after reviewing enrollment materials and speaking with university personnel involved in enrollment, they decided to move this process to the career center’s career management system.

    “Because enrollment is small during the academic year, it will give us the ability to figure out the best way to use [the system] prior to our largest enrollment in the summer,” she says. “But, while this will streamline the process for students to apply, it will not solve our problem concerning registration confirmation.”

    Moving forward, the career center will strongly encourage students who register for the internship course to also complete Career Decisions: From Insight to Impact, a non-credit online course that Castonguay teaches.

    “The class aims to help learners understand their motivations, strengths, and goals, and appreciate how personal identity affects career decision making,” she says.

    Castonguay recommends that other career centers considering developing a similar internship course be very clear about the benefits offered to students by having such an option when obtaining approval from the university.

    “If your institution enrolls international students, consider enlisting the help of your international student office and office of admission when seeking approval, as these offices will see the value in the proposal,” she advises. “At every step of the way, it is crucial to have buy-in and a strong working relationship with all relevant departments within your institution. Once you have the course in place, it is also important to make sure that students understand every step of the process, particularly if they are international students.”

    In addition to serving the needs of Wesleyan students, Castonguay sees the course connecting more students to the Gordon Career Center.

    “We hope that by taking over administration for this course we will engage more first-year and sophomore students with our office, as they have been most likely to take part in internships that require credit,” she notes. “We also believe we will gain more visibility with international students as a valuable resource for them.”