I was in a fascinating conversation today: big, brand name employer talking to R1 University about internships, particularly in STEM fields.

Employer: Could we get interns and then keep them? They could continue their undergraduate education online?

School: Well, the students need to come back to campus to complete their coursework. But they can do another internship the following summer. Or full time, after graduation.

Probably 1,001 reasons why the above can’t work – or perhaps some are doing it already. 

We know that you cannot be afraid to cannibalize your own business. Seen an iPod lately?

There are fewer and fewer deep moats.

Is the school afraid they’ll lose the student? That the student never returns, never graduates, stops paying tuition? Would that be a failure, if students are happily employed or completing their degree more slowly (earning $$$ and going debt free)?

What if the employer offered to pay tuition for incoming juniors who could intern FT (so the school has vetted the students and they’ve proven basic capabilities)…and schools set up rigorous online UG curriculum in the one-class-at-a-time, each-class-is-6-weeks-long model? Maybe throw in one or two industry certifications to make these students, even the English majors, useful out of the gate: Salesforce, Workday etc.

Does this destroy the idea of “college” that we cherish (and so few students actually experience)? Are there schools and employers doing this sort of thing at scale ($50k a year for an intern w/o benefits plus $20k for tuition is still less than a FT worker in a market like NYC, SF, Boston, DC)? What happens if the economy cools, hiring slows, and we have tens of thousands of partly educated unemployed 20-somethings?

Lots of schools claiming to prepare students for employment. Lots of schools offering working adults degree completion programs. Who is packaging the disparate pieces to solve employers real challenges: creating a pipeline of qualified workers.