This past summer undergrad internship placement was up by 8.5 percent over 2011, and students taking advantage of internships were making money—$16.21 per hour on average. Even better, more than 60 percent of college interns were offered a job in 2012.
In tandem with the recent numbers, as published by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, experts are talking about changing and re-imagining what the internship and college work-study programs can—and should—look like.
The new ideas include the development of opportunities away from the traditional internship, ones that not just identify what students want to do in life, but also developing their business skills so that they can succeed on their own.
Four schools—Yale College, Berea College, Randolph-Macon College and Harper College—have embraced innovative new internship and work-study programs that give local businesses a bigger, better-trained pool of talent as well as help foster the entrepreneurs of tomorrow.
Yale Sends Interns Into the Real World
Rowan Claypool, a Yale alumnus, wanted fellow graduates to help change the way that internships are implemented. So, he reached out to alumni and community leaders to create a series of almuni-sponsored, city-specific, sustainable internships. The Bulldogs Across America Internship program was born.
"The program represents interesting outside-the-walls engagement with unexpected cities," Claypool says. "The single biggest element of the program is meaningful work. These kids are full-time employees in places where they have to show up to work and be accountable. It is not shadowing."
Yale students, who are selected for the program, take on paid internships in communities not typically on the shortlist of glamorous and high-profile job markets—such as Louisville, Cleveland, Denver, Minneapolis, Houston and New Orleans. They work a 40-hour week and then log hours at places such as Kentuckiana Works, where job-seeking locals can plug into employment and employment-retraining resources. They also take side trips, like the one at the Gund Foundation, which took students to see what Claypool describes as "Cleveland's backside or underbelly."
Interns also become residents of these cities; the program includes free or low-cost housing. Part of the deal, however, is that they participate in a comprehensive set of high-content presentations—Fortune 200 company leaders sit down with them for small-group lunches and conversations—and they go to events that illustrate and illuminate the place they've gone to work and live.
"We should expose these kids to the things that we're struggling to work with and solve," says Claypool. "It's not all Chamber of Commerce. People like us are engaging with things significant to our cities, things that are vexing and challenging and need bright young minds."
And so, inherent in the Bulldogs' concept is the building of bridges to business relationships. The program is helping these young and potentially entrepreneurial minds to connect with the ideas and possibilities that a fresh take on these participating cities can prompt.
For all of this, the Bulldogs get paid $2,700 for nine weeks. The recent applicant pool had 521 applicants. The program accepts about 137.
And yes, the more traditional internship destination of San Francisco is also on the program's roster, but Claypool says its presence is more or less a magnet. He hopes that it attracts Bulldogs Across America candidates, who then discover that they'd like to go somewhere more atypical.
"That's one of the reasons we did it," Claypool said of San Francisco. "Twenty percent of what we work with comes from applicants who begin by wanting San Francisco. In a lot of ways, it then becomes our very strong mission to entice kids off the usual course."
Berea College Works to Preserve Culture
Out of adversity comes opportunity, and the work-study program at Berea College, its Labor Program, was built with that idea at its core.
Berea specializes in students who come from challenging economic backgrounds. All of its approximately 1,500 full-time undergrads start with a full-tuition scholarship. That deal comes with the college's mandatory commitment to a work-study position. For their work, students get a $4,000 grant and then make $3.80 to $6.25 per hour. During the summer term, students can plug into a $7 per-hour extension of the program.
At first students might start in the cafeteria, in groundskeeping or the like. But they soon advance to more major- and career-specific tasks.
There's the on-campus Theatre Laboratory that puts on productions throughout the academic year. Lighting needs to be rigged, costumes sewn, sets built, and tickets sold. Others work at Boone Tavern Hotel, the school-owned lodging in the town's historic district, or they're connected with an area nonprofit that needs new help.
"It is our hope that as our students progress, they are going to find a position closely aligned with whatever their academic major is," says Darlene Stocker, program coordinator.
What is truly innovative about Berea, however, is the way that it plugs into its Appalachian roots. The school puts work-study students to work learning from locals and creating traditional wood and weaving crafts. This isn't just about jobs. It's about cultural survival.
The history of the college's work with the weavers, throwers and forgers who comprise the mountains' artisans goes back to the 1890s. Since the early 20th Century, presidents, instructors and graduates of Berea have worked to bring the craftspeople of the region into the classroom.
That's created a place for the school's economics and business students to look, as well as learners in its industrial arts and technology department. The entrepreneurial spirit is alive in the way these crafters create and support themselves by dint of their skills. But Berea's emphasis on these artisans has also helped form the Southern Highland Craft Guild and the Kentucky Guild of Artists & Craftsmen. The result: a sustainable craft revival that persists to the present day.
'The Edge': Creating Career-Oriented Minds
Explore, discern, galvanize, and execute. That's the underlying concept built into the internships and work-studies offered at Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, Va. The scope of the program, The Edge, is a lot larger than just supplying students with jobs to help offset the cost of education.
According to Linda Carne, executive director of The Edge, Randolph-Macon wants to change its undergraduates' whole approach to life.
"Don't put a senior into their first internship only to find out they don't like, say for instance, finance," Carne says. "This is all backwards, the traditional model. We've got to start earlier…we have to craft it so that you are out there working."
The Edge plays out in the form of a work-study program that not only places undergrads as early as their freshman year into $8- to $9-per-hour on-campus jobs, but one that also immerses them in training for employment readiness and financial literacy. Whether they ultimately end up interviewing for a job or they take a route that finds them creating business in pursuit of investors, Randolph-Macon's sophomores are soon bound for Career Boot Camp.
Scheduled to start in January 2013, the school's weekend-long immersion program will put participants into a conference center and run them through mock interviews, employment and workplace training session—and it will help them focus on identifying what they'd like to do in life, early on rather than at the end of their undergraduate career.
All part of a plan, says Carne, to bring a kind of business-savvy consciousness to undergrads.
"We're turning around the concept of college being about your career and making it about your professional pathway," she says. "You have to dream it. But you also have to be practical."
The Certified Mind: Industry and Higher Ed Turn to Internships
Companies and colleges are also working together in new ways. At Harper College in Palatine, Ill., students in the industrial arts are defining careers via a stackable certificates program.
In essence, undergrads work at an internship through the community college and come out with the paperwork that vets them. They acquire all the certificates they'll need to go straight into the workplace.
At the end of the process, says spokesman Phil Burdick: "they are a Certified Production Technician..."
"...That prepares them to get onto the factory floor," he says. "They take their internship and then they specialize in different areas. They'll get another certificate from that. Those certificates can actually build into an associate's degree."
It is an energizing concept that starts this fall. Already, more than 60 manufacturing companies in Harper's area are in on the plan, offering interns from $15 to $30 per hour.
And when it comes to industry leaders in the region? The impact of the program is about bottom lines.
"My business is at stake," says Warren Young, chief executive of Acme Industries in Elk Grove Village, Ill.
Speaking about the benefits of Harper's program, Young said he doubted the success of any manufacturing renaissance in Illinois industrial sector without an influx of ready-to-work, certified new candidates: "a pipeline of skilled people who can come in and do the work."
These manufacturers, from the small-business model to the larger shop, none of them can afford to compromise their equipment and workflow if they intend to prosper in a tough economy.
"You can't put someone without credentials in front of a $500,000 machine and say, 'Here, run this'," Young says.
As for Harper College, manufacturing is only the beginning. The school is now probing similar programs in automation, machining, metals and supply management. If the certificates concept continues to succeed, entrepreneurs and owners throughout the region stand to see an influx of new workers armed with the papers to prove their skills.
"I think our innovation is combining real work experience with real work credentials," says Burdick. "That's what's crucial."