Work Experience Requirement is Paternalism 101

February 17, 2017

By Ola Lisowski
MacIver Institute Research Associate

Last week, Gov. Scott Walker introduced his 2017-19 state budget. While one could spend all day picking apart the minutiae of the document – as this very Institute will do for the next several months – today, I hone in on a single provision. While well-intentioned, the proposal to require that undergraduates obtain an internship or work experience before earning a Bachelor’s degree will ultimately do more harm than good. Such paternalistic provisions make it clear that the state knows what’s best and everyone else is just along for the ride.

As written, the provision allows the Board of Regents to establish policies that will determine whether or not a student has satisfied the requirement. Students starting at the UW System during the 2018-19 academic year or later will need to satisfy the work experience provision if they are to obtain a degree. Like many single-paragraph government edicts, this one creates more questions than it answers.

The first question: are there any undergraduates out there who are actually unaware that they should obtain some sort of work experience for a better chance at future success?

If so, the second question is: how?

Our public education system is practically centered around telling children they’ll need to get a job one day, and that they should try to figure out what job that might be sooner rather than later. That’s not to deny that there are kids slipping through the cracks of our public education system, evidenced by statistics such as our woeful black-white achievement gap or proficiency rates among the many failing schools in the state.

I won’t argue against anyone who wants more graduates connected with employment in meaningful ways, but this provision goes far beyond a simple encouragement and hangs degree completion in the balance. Walker’s budget simultaneously requires the UW System to create new three-year degree pathways while also adding on a requirement like this that only serves to lengthen the amount of time that students are in school.

Some unsolicited advice from a graduate closer to her commencement ceremony than her final loan payout letter: every college student in the state already knows that they need a job or an internship, and soon. This is literally the stuff that students stress over on a daily basis. Rather than adding on new burdens and requirements for graduation, the state should focus on the one thing it should be doing these days — getting out of the way.

This provision has all the makings of a feel-good law without much else behind it, besides good intentions.

We all know what they say about good intentions.