What's the Difference Between Internships and the Community Involvement Program (CIP)?

September 23, 2011
Merith Weisman

Many students, community partners and faculty ask about the differences between internships and the Community Involvement Program (CIP). Basically, CIP, provides a means for students to earn academic credit for volunteer experience at nonprofit and governmental organizations including schools, hospitals, recreation programs, group homes, day care centers and senior centers. An internship is a field-based learning experience where students are placed in a job setting to learn skills that integrate their future career goals with coursework. So, there are some similarities in these two forms of community engagement in that students are getting academic credit for their experience. But there are some differences, too:

1) CIP is special to SSU and is not common in higher education. Almost every higher ed institution in the US (and perhaps globally) has an internship (also called externship or co-op) program.

2) Internships can be paid or unpaid and with for or non-profit organizations. CIP must be unpaid and with a nonprofit or governmental organization.

3) At many institutions, internships are restricted to older students and to experiences that relate directly to their potential careers. While SSU is not usually so strict about this, CIP can be targeted to younger students or to recognize students who do volunteer work that is not necessarily aligned with their career plans.

4)  At SSU, all academic departments outside of the School of Education support interns, but not all offer CIP to their students.

5) At SSU, some departments require internships and have specific internship coordinators. Often, if the department offers CIP, this is the same person.

6) Sometimes students refer to themselves as "interns" when they are not enrolled in academic units. Occasionally, they may not know they can get credit for their work. Community partners can help clarify goals and agreements with students.

If you represent a community organization and want more information about recruiting interns or CIP students, please check out this blog post.