NEW YORK (MainStreet) -- A new definition for "internship" from a professional association that connects college students with employers nationwide suggests the experience should benefit workers and provide a real opportunity to advance their careers.

According to a statement released Tuesday by the National Association of College and Employers, an internship is "a form of experiential learning that integrates knowledge and theory learned in the classroom with practical application and skills development in a professional setting."

A new definition for "internship" suggests the experience should provide a real opportunity for career advancement.

"Internships give students the opportunity to gain valuable applied experience and make connections in professional fields they are considering for career paths, and give employers the opportunity to guide and evaluate talent," NACE said.

NACE released the formal definition as part of its ongoing effort to get the Labor Department to review the criteria determining whether internships may be unpaid.

The Labor Department stipulates that companies must meet six criteria for an internship to remain unpaid. Among them, the intern must be aware that the position is unpaid, and also that taking the position will not guarantee a job once the internship ends.

Additionally, federal law stipulates that they must get close supervision and instruction throughout their internship. The intern must not displace salaried employees, and he or she must get instruction similar to training at a vocational school. Such training is not meant to give a company any "immediate advantage," however.

NACE says most members agree with five of the six criteria, but many take issue with the fact that an intern's work cannot benefit the company.

"Students want to engage in projects and tasks that contribute to the professional work of the organization," NACE said in its position statement. "This means that the employer does benefit from the work of the intern while, at the same time, it provides a meaningful experience that allows for the application of academic knowledge."

NACE also indicated it has received "numerous questions regarding internships over the past 18 months" that necessitated a formal response.

As we have reported, a lack of part-time jobs for students has led to an uptick in internship applications. While they may not be equal to a job, internships can still benefit everyone involved.

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