"Best practice" is a common phrase in higher education institutions; yet it is rarely analyzed, and thus its meanings are often subjective. It is presumably a standard of performance to which administrators are expected to adhere, but its parameters are often left unstated. This is particularly significant because adhering to the concept, however an institution frames it, can justify policies, approaches, or funding. Despite its importance, "best practice" remains a difficult term to master, particularly for those new to the field of student affairs. This is largely due to one issue: similar to the term "diversity," "best practice" is mostly defined by those who are discussing it.
Theoretically, the concept of "best practice" is articulated so that others can attempt to measure up to the highest standard in their field(s). In higher education, for example, the best practice moniker can be applied to virtually any endeavor—internship administration, teaching, research, academic advising, fundraising, communications and marketing, career advising, residential life, admissions, international education, etc. The underlying assumption at play is that a particular practice and method has been judged to be the best. The judges are often seasoned professionals who hold leadership roles in their departments or institutions, serve on boards of professional organizations, and may also hold terminal degree(s).
The important questions that should be asked for "best practice" with internship program management are:
- Which internships are the best?
- Why are they the best?
- How were these programs developed?
- Who sees them as the best in the field?
- How can others meet these standards?
- Should other schools attempt to meet these standards? Or should they develop their own standards based on different metrics?
The ambiguity of "best practice" and the challenges it presents is an issue in higher education circles. Whether or not this will change remains to be seen, but this is a call to action to openly address it and move towards consensus.
Ned Khatrichettri, M.A. is an Internship Coordinator in the College of Humanities at the University of Utah. He is the author of Minority Report: What is it like to Teach English in Japan?