Internships Provide Valuable Experience for Online, On-Campus Students

Dec 12, 2013
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Compiled by Ethan Alpern
December 12, 2013

Editor's note: Internships have grown in number and importance as competition for jobs has increased. They can help companies identify competent candidates, in addition to giving students applicable, hands-on experience in their chosen field.

In a world filled with technological evolution, the higher education industry was quick to follow. In addition to improved campus facilities, equipment and integrated curricula, an entire aspect of higher education evolved as well. Each year additional online universities are founded, and traditional universities develop distance learning and online education opportunities. However, one aspect of education -- traditional or online -- has always remained constant. Work experience is still an essential element of the education process.

Work Experience

Students must look beyond their classroom/online syllabi to gain valuable work experience through internships and part-time jobs, as a key supplement to instruction. In many of the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) professions, students will not even be considered for full-time employment after graduation unless that have acquired relevant internship/work experience. In fact, some of the easiest pathways to landing a full-time position with a company is through internships or beginning as a part-time student employee.

The beauty of online education is its flexibility and increased access to students. When students are able to access course materials, lecture notes and message boards remotely, and without traditional and set time constraints, they are given an opportunity to gain work experience during the normal work week.

Access, Opportunity, and Growth in Enrollment

"Technology can be a hugely important tool as we strive both to increase equity and raise the bar for all students," said Arne Duncan, U.S. Secretary of Education. "We need to expand and accelerate that access."

In addition to providing flexibility for the existing student populations, online education provides access to higher education for working professionals. According to a survey conducted by Eduventures in 2011, adults have become a much larger part of the online market, reaching 28 percent of the fully or majority online head count. This new age of education has been a second chance for many who believed that their opportunity to earn a degree in higher education was no longer an option.

Increased access to education creates multiple opportunities for students to learn. Whether it be early childhood education or advanced professional degree programs, access to education is paramount. In the 2006-2007 academic year, 41 percent of U.S. institutions offered fully-online undergraduate programs, 25 percent of U.S. institutions offered fully-online graduate programs, and 65 percent of U.S. institutions offer some type of online education. These institutions' online course and degree alternatives allow for non-traditional student populations to achieve their education goals, while continuing to gain work experience and earn a living.

In 2009, the University of Maryland - College Park supplemented its on-campus enrollment (over 37,000 students) by providing online education to more than an additional 51,000 undergraduate and graduate students. Of those online students, 79 percent of them were employed full time while enrolled in courses. Online opportunities, such as those offered at the University of Maryland, make it possible for students to live a well-balanced life that otherwise would not have included a degree from an institution of higher education.

Internet technology has made it possible to access courses from all over the world through global distance learning. There are a number of "mega universities" across the globe that provide educational opportunities to hundreds of thousands of students through their global distance learning programs. Mega universities are defined as distance teaching institutions with more than 100,000 active students enrolled in degree-seeking programs. These mega universities are becoming increasingly significant for the future of higher education all over the world. As more and more non-traditional students enroll in online education programs across the globe, the goal of an educated world can be reached.

The Right to Education

An "educated world" is a concept that been grasped by educators across the globe, who believe that education is an inherent right rather than solely a privilege for the wealthy. In fact, there are tuition-free online institutions that allow all of their students to take any class provided on their website, such as www.edX.org. According to Anant Agarwal, President of edX, "an educated world is a better world for everybody."

Agarwal remained true to his positions on the right to education after being jokingly antagonized by talk show host Stephen Colbert, when appearing on Comedy Central's "The Colbert Report" on July 24, 2013. Colbert insisted that Agarwal begin collecting all of the potential revenue of students' tuitions.

Synergy is Key

Synergy is the concept that the sum of the elements working together produces greater results than the individual parts. On the football field, all of the offensive players have individual assignments that, when executed together, achieve forward progress leading to touchdowns.

In business, successful companies look for employees who possess both intelligence and real-world skills. While a quality education and relevant work experience are good steps toward earning a full-time job, combining them helps to cultivate stronger candidates that enter the workforce.

Access to quality degree-earning opportunities, supplemented with various work experiences, will serve as the necessary elements to achieving a synergized education process for all, and hopefully full-time employment.

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