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UW System students could face internship requirement

February 22, 2017

A budget proposal by Gov. Scott Walker could mean that UW System students will face an additional requirement in order to graduate in the future.

The budget proposal, which was introduced to the Wisconsin Legislature on Feb. 8, highlights a number of policies Walker would like to implement for the UW System, including a tuition cut and three-year degree options. It would also require UW System students to have an internship or other relevant work experience before graduating.

“This requirement helps to bridge the gap between higher education and the workforce by providing students with hands-on experience in fields they want to pursue for their future careers,” reads a press release from Walker’s office.

Melissa Wilson, director of Career Services at UW-River Falls, said that the value of internships and other relevant experience is rarely disputed.

“What we’re hearing from employers is that they would like to see one to two internships or relevant experiences before they hire a new college graduate on full-time for their organization,” Wilson said.

For freshman Molly O’Neil, an environmental science major, this message is familiar. She said that, in her English class, they’re talking about how employers are complaining that students don’t have enough real-world experience anymore.

“I think that it would actually be a great idea if we got that back, where students are actually prepared to be in the job field and ready,” O’Neil said.

Some of the programs at UWRF already require internship experience, like marketing communications. Others offer practicum experience as part of their curriculum, such as the social work major.

Wilson said that nothing can be known for sure about how Walker’s proposal would impact UWRF if implemented until a definition for “relevant experience” is agreed upon. Whether this could include experience like practicum courses and other requirements like student teaching is yet to be determined. The press release from Walker’s office explains that the Board of Regents would develop policies to determine what would satisfy the requirement.

Senior Jacob Bechel, an accounting major, said that he is concerned about internships being a scarce resource, especially with students from UWRF competing for the same internships as students from schools in the Twin Cities.

“The biggest issue is, there’s not enough internships to go around in a general area, so I could definitely see the cons of that outweighing the pros of having a definite rule in place,” Bechel said. “I would almost rather have it be optional, but that’s just me.”

UWRF has formed an Internship Working Group, headed by Wilson, in order to alleviate some of these concerns. The group also includes a representative from each of the four colleges at UWRF, Director of the Center for Innovation and Business Development Danielle Campeau and Executive Assistant to the Chancellor Beth Schommer.

Wilson said that the group was formed in the spring of 2016 after Walker and UW System President Ray Cross started speaking about the importance of internships for students.

“We decided to form this Internship Working Group so that we would have one voice and one collective group talking about different topics related to internships and what we would like to do as a campus to maybe form better partnerships with external constituents and also serve our students better in that arena,” Wilson said.

One of the tasks the group faced recently was an overhaul of the hiring website, Hire-a-Falcon. The website is now housed under Career Services, and the office has full control over the information communicated through it.

For students concerned about the potential requirement, Wilson said to be patient and wait until more is known. More information will be available when the budget proposal is amended and voted on, which is likely to happen this summer.