A different kind of paid internship

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KAI RYSSDAL: It's been true for a number of years now that a college degree just isn't enough anymore. New graduates need an internship or two under their belts as well. Some paid, some not.

That is, sometimes students pay for the chance to get work experience. So maybe it was inevitable that entrepreneurs would see an opportunity there. Pat Loeb has more.


PAT LOEB: Lauren Liebes graduated from Boston University with three internships under her belt. Gone, she says, are the days of summer jobs that help pay tuition. Now, working for free at an internship is vital to making a college degree count.
LAUREN LIEBES: You have to. I think it's hard to graduate and get a job with nothing, just scooping ice cream over the summer.

That's why Liebes was willing to explore any angle to get an internship in the music industry. Even seeking out a service that charges thousands of dollars to help. For Liebes, it paid off.

LIEBES: It totally changed my life. The music industry is so hard. So you really just need to get your foot in the door.

Liebes got an unpaid internship with a music production company, which turned into a part-time job during her senior year and then helped her get her first job after graduation.

She believes she never would have gotten into the industry without the help of the University of Dreams. That's one of a growing number of private, for-profit businesses created to respond to the new reality in higher education: that academic work is only part of what a student needs.

The University of Dreams is one of the largest programs, with 850 students a summer taking part. And it's certainly one of the most expensive. Fees range from $6,500 for an eight-week internship in Chicago or San Francisco to 9,000 for one in London.

Eric Lochtefeld founded the company seven years ago, when the dot-com boom had high-tech companies beating the bushes for interns. He planned to charge employers for finding them interns.

But then the boom went bust. He decided to test the waters to see if students — or their parents — would pay. They did.

ERIC LOCHTEFELD: And really, it's all just come down to outstanding service. I mean, if you charge a premium, like we do, you know you really have to deliver on that service.

Lochtefeld says the company delivers coveted internships because it has an ongoing relationship with sought-after employers, like BMG music.

BMG's human resources manager Cheryl Allison.

CHERYL ALLISON: They do a lot of that initial grunt work for me. And so there's a level of professionalism that I haven't gotten sometimes in just even unsolicited resumes from college students.

Allison says she gets all her summer interns from the University of Dreams now. But she also takes on interns the rest of the year through local schools.

The particular genius of Lochtefeld's business plan is that the internship itself is only part of the equation. The fees include room and board, daily transportation, workmen's comp insurance, weekend excursions and weekly seminars. That is something parents are more likely to pay for.

Take Lauren Liebes. Her parents were willing to pay her summer room and board anyway. And the extras?

LIEBES: Kinda reminded me of summer camp a little bit, like sleepaway camp.

For parents who paid for summer camps all their kids' lives — along with music lessons, sports clinics and tutors — and who are shelling out tens of thousands of dollars for a college education, this is just one more expense to give their kids that extra advantage.

Still, it rankles college counselors, who place students in internships at no charge all the time.

Dario Bravo manages the internship program at UCLA.

DARIO BRAVO: It does bother me that people would try to exploit students with charging them, you know, because students don't have to do that.

Bravo figures he's placed several thousand students in internships absolutely free.

Still, he knows that inside information on internships can be lucrative. He got a $40,000 advance for his book, "The Internship Advantage." Of course, that book is available to anyone for under $15.

In Los Angeles, I'm Pat Loeb for Marketplace.

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