Changes on the Horizon for University-Led Internships

Changes on the Horizon for University-Led Internships

Across the higher education landscape, the years have seen university-led internships go from mandatory to maybe not. Recent developments indicate that this may be about to change. One factor contributing to this likely shift is decisions in recent unpaid internship court cases (Kaplan v. Code Blue Billing & Coding, 2013).


A common thread running through significant internship court cases is a declaration of the importance of university involvement in internships (Glatt v. Fox Searchlight, 2015). When faced with the challenge of determining if an employment relationship exists in internship cases, a prevailing constant has been that the level of university involvement increases the likelihood that the candidate is seen as an intern and not an employee. While university involvement is not the only determining factor, it is a key factor.


Since 2010, companies have been able to rely on test areas articulated in Department of Labor (DOL) Fact Sheet # 71. The issue harkening to changes on the horizon is that many courts are no longer using the DOL guidance as the sole source (Schumann v. Collier Anesthesia, 2015). One of the most recent was when the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in Glatt v. Fox Searchlight placed significant emphasis on university connectivity by extending the test questions from six to seven and increasing from one university specific test factor to three.  


Why is this important? Judges are using university involvement to test internship validity. Lawyers are advising their business clients that university driven internships are the smartest option. Plaintiffs are using the absence of university connectivity on a class action level to strengthen their claim of an employment relationship rather than a learning opportunity.  The prevailing position is that an internship should be more of a learning opportunity and less of a job. The stance taken is the best way to ensure that time spent is for the good of learning is to establish a direct link between the activities in the workplace and university learning programs. This link necessity thereby is expected to increase the need for an academic program available to be linked directly to the workplace program. The result is an expected resurgence in university led internships.


Students will continue to need and want ways to transition from learner to worker. Employers will continue to need and want ways to reduce the risk involved in serving as the learner-to-worker transitioning agent. Recent litigation specifically identifies the need for colleges and universities to serve as the managerial bridge linking students and employers through these transitional processes.


This return to a demand for university driven experiential learning creates a wide variety of research opportunities. A valid research question might be to what extent are colleges and universities ready to take on the intern management role? Another might be, do these colleges and universities have robust internship programs capable of managing a contemporary internship? A further research question might be, how have program management structures changed from traditional to contemporary internship programs? How has social media changed the landscape of experiential learning?  The list of potential research questions rising out of this return to a university led transition vehicle is limited only by the creative thinking of our researchers which to some poses a bit of a problem. Of all the problems that we face, this problem of using my creative brain to develop research questions and then actively pursuing an evidence based response; that is a problem I embrace. How about you?




Glatt v. Fox Searchlight, 791 F.3d 376, 24WH Cases2d 1665, 2015 BL 212500 (2nd Cir. 2015)


Kaplan v. Code Blue Billing & Coding, 2013 BL 16205 (11th Cir. 2013)


Schumann v. Collier Anesthesia, 2015 BL 294459 (11th Cir. 2015)


U. S. Department of Labor, Wage and Hour Division, Fact Sheet #71 retrieved from



James Rice's picture James Rice | June 2, 2016 4:50 am MST

Fascinating topic.  I know that some on-line Universities are creating internships through their business community partnerships.  In those settings, active univeristy adjunct faculty who are also practitioners are the intern facilitator and manage participating students within in their business settings.  In those cases, adjunct faculty are not just teaching in the university setting they are bringing students into their workplace to learn based on an established work program.  Students have specific academic goals integrated into their work efforts.

UOPX, through the application of the SPL model, should be uniquely suited to implementation of this kind of internship model.  It requires adjunct faculty who are in a position to offer supervision to students in a business setting through a business partnership.  This type of program woud have significant benefits to UOPX and students in the areas of practical student experience, UOPX visibility in the business setting, and a further development of a key UOPX differentiator (the SPL model). 

Has UOPX considered implementing internships through this kind of business partnership?  What would be the stumbling blocks to the implementation of such a program?

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