This should not be surprising. Because contemporary notions of academic freedom grant professors wide latitude to teach what, and how, they like, most colleges haven’t developed systems to objectively evaluate student learning in individual courses. They can, however, rely on the academic culture of the institution and the general professionalism that goes along with scholarly credentials. With internships, no such built-in safeguards exist. Some colleges and universities require interns getting credit to write an essay and complete coursework related to the internship, while others rely only on a supervisor evaluation — or, as the Intern Bridge research indicates, nothing at all.

Supervisors, moreover, aren’t educators, and receive no training in evaluating learning. Internships sometimes come with a grade, a chunk of which is based on a one- to two-page form filled out by a company supervisor — evaluating attributes like dependability and punctuality on a five-point scale (check a box, from “outstanding” to “unacceptable”) and a few general characterizations of the quality of the intern’s work. This is a far cry from the rigorous examinations and thoroughly graded essays that characterize the best college courses.

The college internship as we know it today has evolved into an awkward marriage between organizations with very different missions. Both sides are offering something of legitimate value — from the workplace, experience and connections; from colleges, credits that lead to degrees — even as they also help their bottom lines. Students, meanwhile, are faced with a system whose rules vary widely among different colleges, or even departments within colleges, as they try to reach a goal that can be all too elusive: a good job that pays a good wage.

Kevin Carey is director of the New America Foundation’s education policy program.