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Home > For Principal Reps and Faculty > Resources > Internship Guidelines


Developed by the NASPAA Committee on Public Service Internships and
Approved by the NASPAA Executive Council
November 1977


Most universities and colleges granting degrees in public administration and related fields require the student to have practical field experience. Using medical school terminology, most institutions call this field experience an internship. However, unlike the medical school requirement, there have been no generally accepted guidelines and standards for public service internships.

As a result, the term public service internship denotes many varied field experiences. Criticisms of internships are many. A common one is that interns are assigned clerical-type chores rather than more meaningful learning experiences. Often students are on their own, they receive little supervision from either on-the-job personnel or university faculty members. Another criticism, from the public service side, is that the students are not properly trained and motivated. From the university side, the criticism is made that internships are not integrated into the academic curriculum.

In response to these and other criticisms, and to supplement other standards and guidelines developed by NASPAA, the Committee on Public Service Internships took as one of its first assignments the development of NASPAA guidelines for public service internships.

We want to make several points before proceeding with our suggested guidelines. We think that public service internships are an integral part of the public service student's professional education, but we also believe that those in charge of such programs must make every effort to see that the internship is conducted in such a way that it is indeed a true learning experience. The internship should not be primarily a means of recruitment for the public service. Nor should it be an after-thought or an add-on. Although we think that the internship can be a valuable part of a public administration program, we take no position that it must be part of all programs. There are alternatives.

The public service internship provides the student with a work experience to give him/her a realistic exposure to an organizational-bureaucratic environment. This experience should develop the student's awareness of the internal dynamics of an organization and of the value and attitudes of public employees to both their clientele and their administrative-political superiors.

The internship should give the student the opportunity to become aware of his/her obligations as a professional and to the public. The internship may be one of the few opportunities the student has to test the skills and attitudes development discussed in his/her academic program.

Although the intern should handle real work assignments, it should be remembered by all supervisory personnel-both on the job and academic--that the major reason for the internships is to provide a learning experience. The internship should be carefully integrated into the student's overall academic program. The following guidelines are for the general development of internships. Other models may exist and are encouraged.

Duration and Timing
An internship should be related to an academic calendar. A full-time internship should last a minimum of ten weeks and a maximum of 12 months. At a minimum, part- time internships would utilize the student for at least 20 hours per week for 15 weeks.

Undergraduate internships vary somewhat from this general description. NASPAA standards and guidelines adopted for the baccalaureate degree state: "Part-time internships should require a minimum of twenty hours per week for at least one term or semester. Full-time internships should not be less than eight weeks in order for the student to have a meaningful experience." (Added by the NASPAA Executive Council, July 14, 1978.)

Academic Component
As set forth in the NASPAA guidelines and standards for professional degree programs, experiential learning should be considered an indispensable element of public affairs/public administration programs.

For public administration programs which include internships as part of their academic programs, an internship or related field experience may be required of all students. Academic credit should be given for the internship. The internship should be graded on a basis consistent with the policies of the institution (either a pass-fail or a letter grade).

Because undergraduate programs typically involve more academic credit than the master's degree, the baccalaureate standards and guidelines have defined limitations on credit, as follows: "Academic credit awarded for internship experiences should not exceed twelve and one-half percent of the total credits required for the baccalaureate degree.

"An additional twelve and one-half percent of total credit may be allowed for appropriate professional experience when such experience is validated through examinations or other established procedures which demonstrates mastery of the content of specific academic courses.... These limitations do not apply to the granting of academic credit through the College Level Entrance Program (CLEP)."

In developing a curriculum plan with the student, an academic adviser should take care that credit for internships in public service is not a large part of the student's total academic program, both undergraduate, and graduate. (Added by the NASPAA Executive Council, July 14, 1978.)

Students who have had considerable experience in the public sector, or who are currently in the public sector, and are students on a part-time basis, may be permitted to waive the internship requirement by demonstrating equivalent experiential learning expected of the intern.

To strengthen the academic component of the internship, where practical, an academic seminar during the internship should be arranged. At the minimum, the student should be required to prepare an academic paper based on his/her practical experience. The paper should be evaluated as a regular seminar paper. For programs with a thesis requirement, students should be encouraged to use the internship as an opportunity to develop thesis documentation.

The MPA program faculty should assume responsibility for the development of policies governing the curriculum and academic aspects of internships programs; responsibility for the implementation of those policies should be assigned to a member of the MPA faculty, who may be the MPA director. The development maintenance, and evaluation of individual internships and the day to day operation of the internship program may be delegated to non-academic professional staff. When such duties are assigned to a member of the MPA faculty, they should be recognized as part of the teaching load or service contribution of that faculty member, and should be appropriately evaluated and rewarded.

One of the most important components of internships is the nature of the assignment given the student. The primary responsibility for evaluating the adequacy of the placement of the intern should rest with the academic coordinator, not with the student. Ideally, the academic coordinator should offer several placement possibilities in the public sector for the student, and in cooperation with him/her should determine which position would give a particular student the best learning experience, given the student's interests and talents. The student should have the right to refuse an assignment.

Most students will be placed in governmental agencies, but other assignments in the public sector are acceptable. Among the other agencies in which placements would be acceptable are political parties, government relations sections of labor unions and management groups, and such organizations as the League of Women Voters and Common Cause.

When a student is placed, there should be a formal understanding between the public service agency, the academic coordinator, and the student, including a clear understanding of the obligations and responsibilities of all parties. (Usually an agreement can be reached by a discussion among the academic coordinator, the agency representative, and the student, or students.)

Both the Agency and the academic coordinator should supervise the intern. The agency should designate an intern supervisor. There should be as much contact with the student as necessary by both the agency supervisor and the academic internship coordinator. The intern should not be left on his/her own.

The agency supervisor should spell out work assignments for the intern, and should follow up to see that these assignments are completed satisfactorily. When in doubt, the agency supervisor should feel free to discuss assignments with the academic coordinator. The agency supervisor should be regarded as a partner in the learning experience of the student.

Before and during an internship assignment, where practicable, there should be a series of sessions attended by the student, the academic coordinator, and the agency representative (in most cases this should be the intern supervisor) to discuss their mutual expectations of the internship program. In such sessions, attention should be given to the agency representative to make sure that he/she is aware of the special needs of student interns.

The participating agency should, where practicable, be encouraged to provide a stipend or salary to the intern. However, the availability of compensation should in no way impinge on the academic validity of the intern experience.

Evaluation should be a continuous, on-going aspect of the internship program. The evaluation should include statements on each student from the agency intern supervisor, preferably during as well as at the conclusion of the internship. This evaluation should be an important component in grading the intern for academic credit.

Interns should be required to submit self-evaluations of their experiences. Both agency supervisors' and interns' statements should include evaluations of the program's effectiveness. This should aid the academic coordinator in determining which agencies have not given desirable supervision and learning experiences. If written statements by the students are requested, they should be in addition to the academic paper mentioned earlier.

It may also be desirable to require that students submit an additional evaluation six months or a year after their internships have ended. This will provide a means of assessing the long-term impact of the internship.

These guidelines were developed by the following NASPAA Committee on Public Service Internships. They were approved by the NASPAA Executive Council at Colorado Springs, Colorado, November 10, 1977.

John Baget, California State University, Long Beach
Stanley Botner, University of Missouri-Columbia
Robert D. Fuller, University of South Dakota
Michael Goldstein, University of Illinois, Chicago
Circle Samuel K. Gove, Chairman, University of Illinois
Ralph W. Hemphill, Georgia College
Sylvester R. Houston, California State University, Sacramento
D. Jeanne Patterson, Indiana University, Bloomington
John A. Rehfuss, Northern Illinois University, DeKalb
Marcia Taylor, Temple University
James Thurber, The American University
Michael R. Weaver, State University of New York (Washington Semester Program)
Charlotte M. Weber, California State Polytechnic University, Pomona
John W. Wood, University of Oklahoma
Richard E. Zody, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

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