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The ProPublica Nerd Blog

Calculating ‘The Price of an Internship’

Today we launched an interactive news application called “The Price of an Internship.” We hope it will become a comprehensive source for data on internship programs at American universities, built by individual volunteers as well as journalists working in student newsrooms.

The initial launch includes data on internships at journalism programs at 20 universities, provided to ProPublica by students at these schools as part of a #ProjectIntern crowdsourcing effort.

For the initial launch, we asked volunteers to collect data on internship courses in journalism departments at their school, by calling both the university and department internship coordinator. The data they collected included whether an internship was required for graduation, how the school helped students find internships, whether it allowed paid internships, as well as the minimum number of hours students must work to receive credit.

While we performed extensive, manual verification on the data set that accompanied the app’s launch, the app will rely for most of its life on crowdsourced data. That means that at times the data may need updating or correction, and we may be missing some data. We welcome your help. If you see something that needs to be changed or added, e-mail Blair Hickman.

Calculating Costs

Comparing the policy requirements was fairly straightforward. However, we also needed a way to calculate the tuition cost of an internship consistently across different schools. To do this, we looked at the minimum and maximum number of credits a student could earn for a single term of an internship course, as well as the tuition cost-per-credit at that university.

Our volunteers helped us find the minimum and maximum number of credits for an internship course. This varies across universities. For example, at the University of Southern California, journalism students earn one credit for completing JOUR090X, according to media relations spokesperson Gretchen Parker. At Western Washington University, journalism students can earn a maximum of six credits for completing JOUR 430, according to Peggy Watt, chair of the Journalism Department.

Information on credits earned gave us half of our equation.

For the second half of our equation, we needed to calculate the tuition cost per credit at each school.

For tuition cost information, we turned to the Common Data Set, a standard form that most universities use to report data about their institution. In particular, Part G (“Annual Expenses”) of the CDS includes tuition and credit-hour data, which allows us to compare one school’s tuition costs to another’s.

Our calculations make the assumption that the dollar value of an internship credit is equal to the same credit in normal classwork. In situations where CDS data is not available, we use values reported on a school’s website or values given to us by an internship coordinator or other university official.

Our calculations differ a bit based on how the schools compute tuition pricing. The schools about which we’ve collected data so far have one of two kinds: per-credit-hour and per-term (or similar).

Schools with Per-Credit-Hour Tuition Pricing

Schools that use per-credit-hour tuition pricing generally report a per-credit-hour dollar amount in Section G6 of the CDS. If this is the case, we calculate the tuition cost of an internship by multiplying this value by the range of credits or credit-hours a student can earn for one term of an internship course.

Public institutions provide separate G6 values for in-state and out-of-state students. For private institutions, the price is the same. The calculation takes one of the three forms:

in_state = (G6 Public, In-state out-of-district) * (Credit value for listed internship course)

out_of_state = (G6 Public, Out-of-state) * (Credit value for listed internship course)

private = (G6 Private Institutions) * (Credit value for listed internship course)

Some institutions and courses have policies allowing internships to be taken for no tuition cost, including zero-credit and transcript notations. In these cases, we display the low-end of the tuition cost range as $0.

Schools With Per-term Tuition or Similar Pricing

While some schools charge per-credit-hour, other institutions may have alternative methods of charging tuition. For example, Western Washington University, charges a flat cost if a student is taking between 10 and 18 credits.

Schools report “typical” tuition costs for a full-time undergraduate student for the full school year in section G1 of the Common Data Set. For schools in this category, we normalize these values to create an “estimated” cost per term based on the CDS definition of a "full school year" — 2 terms if using a "semester" schedule, 3 terms if using a “trimester” or “quarter” schedule, 1 full-year term if using a "4-1-4" schedule or similar plan.

We take this derived cost per term and then divide it by the maximum number of credits a full-time student may take per term (reported in Section G2 of the CDS). This gives us a synthetic estimate of the cost-per-credit that a full-time student at the institution would expect to pay if they stretched a per-term pricing structure to allow a maximum number of courses. This may underestimate, but shouldn’t overestimate, the theoretical price of the internship.

For public institutions, the CDS gives separate G1 values for in-state and out-of-state students. For private institutions, the price is the same. The calculation takes one of the three forms:

in_state = (G1 Public, In-state out-of-district; tuition only; Undergraduate) / (# of terms per year) / (G2 maximum credits a full-time student may take) * (Credit value for listed internship course)

out_of_state = (G1 Public, out-of-state; tuition only; Undergraduate) / (# of terms per year) / (G2 maximum credits a full-time student may take) * (Credit value for listed internship course)

private = (G1 Private; tuition only; Undergraduate) / (# of terms per year) / (G2 maximum credits a full-time student may take) * (Credit value for listed internship course)

When a student can earn a range of credit hours for an internship course, we show the raw tuition costs as a range, and calculate the minimum and maximum credits the student could receive for the internship.

Some institutions and courses have policies allowing internships to be taken at no cost in certain circumstances. In these cases, we display the low-end of the tuition range as $0.

Ratings and Reviews

The app also lets students rate and review their internships. As with such features all around the Internet, these represent only the experiences of those students who have left feedback, and may not accurately represent all students who have taken an internship through the department’s internship programs.

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