Students petition against price of summer internship credit

The summer after her sophomore year, Lucy Flores was offered an unpaid internship at MTV’s offices in New York City, an experience that earned her credit towards a degree in the School of Media and Public Affairs. Unfortunately for Flores, the experience also set her back $2,910.

Flores, now a senior, is one of many students subject to GW’s policy on internships taken for class credit. As many students prepare to earn credit for their summer internships in the coming months, all are currently required to pay GW to get their credits recognized, paying the school as if they were taking an actual course.

“The cost didn’t hit me until I turned my paperwork in. I started thinking, ‘Is it really worth that much money?'” Flores said.

So when one of Flores’ professors, Adam Green, assigned her Politics and the Internet class to start an online campaign, Flores and classmate Kaitlyn Funk found the perfect subject in their discontent with GW’s for-credit internship policy. In addition to sending e-mails and Twitter updates, Flores and Funk created the Facebook group “My School Charges Me for Unpaid Internships,” the members of whom are added to the girls’ petition to lower the cost of for-credit internships.

“We’re not opposed to paying staff and advisers who help process the internship or the application process,” said Funk. “But $970 per credit is a lot of money, especially if your internship is unpaid. It’s a double blow.”

The cost can be especially hurtful because, unlike the rest of the school year, financial aid is unavailable to students during the summer.

Paul Duff, the Associate Dean for Undergraduate Studies, faced similar complaints from students unable to afford for-credit summer internships a few years ago.

“In response, [the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences] created a zero-credit internship course so that such students could participate in these experiences. As a result of this new course, these students also had the internship experience appear on their transcript,” Duff said.

Despite this option, students supporting the group feel that some credit should be compensated for their work, and that the policy disables equal opportunity for all students.

“I supported the group because I know a lot of organizations want their interns to receive some sort of credit,” said Kara Peterson, a senior interning for credit this semester at the American Psychological Foundation.

Peterson has been interning at the foundation since summer 2007, but this is the first semester she is taking the internship for credit. “I wouldn’t pay extra for an internship, period,” she said. “The only reason I am now is because I’m getting paid, and I have extra room in my schedule for it.”

Flores and Funk currently have 71 Facebook members and the signatures of 23 students and two parents contributing to their campaign.

“Our ultimate goal is to lower the cost of internship credit for the 2009-2010 academic year,” said Flores. “But we would also like to get at least 500 students involved in the campaign by joining our Facebook group or signing the petition, 100 parent signatures on the petition, and an official response from the University.”

In addition to using online sources for their campaign, Flores and Funk set up a meeting to discuss the campaign with Duff. “He recognized the problem and admitted that the same amount of resources for an internship aren’t the same as in a class, and that there’s an opportunity to lower the cost,” said Funk.

The next step for Flores and Funk is to meet with someone from the Student Accounts office.

“We want straight answers as to how they can charge so much,” said Flores. “Lowering costs could encourage people who otherwise wouldn’t take up an internship.”

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