The Internship/Apprenticeship Model Benefits Everyone in Higher Ed

The Internship/Apprenticeship Model Benefits Everyone in Higher Ed

Note: This piece is part four of a multi-part blog series on alternative pathways in higher education. If you haven’t already read the first three pieces, you can find them here:

Alternative Pathways in Higher Ed: Setting the Stage
PLAs: How Many Credits Do You Get for Living?
The Gig Economy is Here to Stay – What Does That Mean for Higher Ed?

In the conversation about alternative pathways to higher education, “credit for experience” is an important topic of discussion. Prior learning assessments (PLAs), which fall under this category, bring work experience into the academic system. But there’s another key example of “credit for experience” that turns the tables by integrating the academic system into the working world. It’s one that many schools have successfully embraced for quite some time: internships and apprenticeships

Benefits of the Internship/Apprenticeship Model in Higher Ed

Internships and apprenticeships may be part of the traditional pathway to higher education (i.e., baked into standard 4-degree programs). However, they provide many of the same opportunities and benefits associated with alternative pathways and are worthy of closer examination in this context. 

How internships/apprenticeships benefit students

“Just do something,” my father used to say when I was trying to figure out what to do with my life. In many ways, the experience of working at—well, anything—can be as valuable as finding the perfect fit. 

Internships and apprenticeships allow students to experiment with a specific path before completing their degree without the pressure of feeling like they’re entering their “forever career.”

This prospect is increasingly enticing, as many Americans now question the value of a 4-year degree. Understandably, young people hesitate to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on a degree that may not lead them down a path of fulfillment. For those who do choose to pursue a 4-year degree, internships and apprenticeships serve as a valuable checkpoint along the way.

How internships and apprenticeships benefit schools 

In this modern landscape, colleges and universities that offer internship and apprenticeship programs can more easily make the case that attending their school is worth the investment.

In addition to allowing students to affirm that they are on the right path, internships and apprenticeships provide a foot in the door to potential jobs post-graduation. Students are much more likely to view college as “worth it” if they have assurance that a 4-year degree will lead to them becoming self-sustaining sooner rather than later.

How internships and apprenticeships benefit employers 

Employers have come to expect colleges and universities to send them interns, and many industries have figured out how to leverage interns to their advantage. Just like students can use internships to determine if a specific role is the right fit, companies can use internships as potential bridges to transitioning the right interns to full-time roles.

However, there is certainly room for improvement in this area. Employers must be wary of the negative perception (true or not) that they are taking advantage of a steady stream of low-cost labor. They have a responsibility to set clear expectations with interns from the start and provide frictionless pathways for moving from an internship to employment.

Successful Internship and Apprenticeship Models in Action

Many schools are leading the way in integrating the academic system into the working world via internship and apprenticeship programs. 

Wake Forest, for instance, not only offers internship programs but also focuses on connecting alumni as part of its robust Alumni Personal & Career Development Center.

Then, there is Northeastern University, a “world leader in cooperative education.” This “cornerstone experiential learning program” alternates semesters of traditional academic learning with full-time work periods, allowing students to explore career paths, network with industry professionals, and develop practical skills to succeed post-graduation. 

College Should Be an Opportunity for Exploration

One of the biggest advantages of going to college is the ability to take risks with relatively low consequences. Switching gears—and even failing—can be inevitable parts of that process. And that’s okay. It’s easier to recalibrate when you’re just beginning a path than years into it. 

Higher education should provide students with opportunities to explore their chosen paths, especially in this current landscape, where pathways that avoid college altogether are becoming more enticing. 

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