In Favor of Academic Credit for Internships


Junior senator Kailash Pandey is planning to introduce a bill in the SGA Senate this Sunday that would create opportunities to receive academic credit for internships for all students. This step would make internships more accessible, especially to international students (comprising roughly 10 percent of the Middlebury student population) whose practical training time of 12 months per degree level decreases for every non-credit internship they participate in using Optional Practical Training (OPT). Practical training time affects visa eligibility for international students.

This bill comes as the result of multiple conversations senator Pandey has had with administrators concerning this issue. Out of respect for the extraordinary individual effort Kailash has put into drafting this bill, I am not co-sponsoring it, but I want to support it in the strongest possible terms.

This bill would set up a program under which a student could choose a professor to advise them on internships which meet certain requirements so that the internship hews as closely as possible to the academic work the student does on campus. The internships meeting these requirements must relate directly to their declared major or professional interest and they must have three explicit learning outcomes related to the internship experience.

In addition, they must have an on-site internship supervisor, students requesting this opportunity must be in good academic standing, and they would need to receive approval from a faculty advisor. They would also submit a deliverable to said supervisor after the internship, and they may only include two of these internships for credit. These robust conditions would ensure academic engagement with the internship while also creating an opportunity for more Middlebury students to fully and equally participate in these kinds of experiences, the majority of which compliment a student’s academic work at a liberal arts institution.

The best parts of this program are the requirements for the faculty supervisor and the requirement for the deliverable. Faculty advisors already form a fundamental part of the educational administrative structure at Middlebury, and having them fill this role for an internship is a natural fit. The academic and personal relationships formed between students and faculty in working on these projects together will become an invaluable learning source if a sufficient number of students participate.

The deliverable is the core of this shared experience between the advisor and the student. In addition to the academically relevant internship, the student will complete a separate project which will solidify the academic parts of the internship experience. This project will prevent the internship from being just work experience or just an internship. It will make it academically relevant.

I want to conclude by speaking briefly on the ramifications of this proposal for international students. Currently, international students face a disadvantage because of our institution’s curricular inflexibility — students cannot receive academic credit for summer internships.

In general, international students with an F-1 student visa are only eligible to participate in off-campus practical training experiences that are directly related to their major field of study after they have been enrolled in their program of study for at least one full academic year. Even then, they only have two options for participating in such experiences: Curricular Practical Training (the opportunity must be an integral part of the curriculum: for credit or required by the program) or Optional Practical Training (OPT). This requires an application for employment authorization to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and the payment of a $410 filing fee each time they apply. This adjudication process is long (90+ days at present). OPT is limited to 12 months per degree level (pre- and post-completion), although STEM majors may have additional opportunities to extend their OPT should they qualify.

Thus, the vast majority of international students at Middlebury are having to tap into their OPT time during their program of study, leaving many graduating with only a few months to engage in practical training opportunities in the U.S. The way our current institutional policy impacts international students and distances them from some of the same experiences their U.S. peers are already participating in is in distinct contrast with Middlebury’s commitment to full and equal participation for all individuals and groups. This proposal represents a step in the right direction by giving more opportunities for internships to international students.