NCSL 2005 Survey of Legislative Internship Programs

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The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) in 2005 completed an online survey of legislative internship programs operated or managed by the state legislatures, colleges and universities placing interns with state legislators or legislative staff agencies, or some combination of these.  A total of 66 programs covering 39 state legislatures responded to the survey.  This report summarizes and analyzes the results from the questionnaire as well as information available from these 66 programs and other non-responding programs available online, supplemented by telephone conversations.  The explanation and information that follows is organized principally on the basis of the questions posed by the survey instrument.

The survey questionnaire was designed by Karl Kurtz and Amy Barse of NCSL and Professor Robert P. Goss, Brigham Young University, and the report was written by Professor Goss.

Key Findings  |  Table of Contents  |  List of Tables

Adobe PDF logo PDF Version of Complete Survey Report (47 pages).  To view PDF files, you must install Adobe Acrobat Reader.   Page numbers in the Contents and Tables lists are provided for location of specific information in the PDF document. 

 Table of Contents: 

  • Legislative Internship Programs Responding to the Survey (p2)
  • Educational Level of Legislative Internship Programs (p2)
  • Names of Legislative Internship Programs and Website Addresses (p4)
  • Source of Interns for Legislative Internship Programs (p12)
  • Public and Private College and University Participation in Legislative Internships (p14) 
  • Placement Locations for Interns (p15)
  • Management of Legislative Programs (p17)
  • Human Resources Required to Manage Legislative Internship Programs (p19) 
  • Placement of Interns and Coordination of Their Work (p20)
  • Financial Resources for Legislative Internship Programs (p21)
  • Publications and Internet Information about Legislative Internship Programs (p22)
  • Size of the Legislative Internship Programs (p23)
  • Length of Internships (p24)
  • Hours Per Week for Internships (p26)
  • Work Assignments and Duties Assigned to Interns (p27)
  • Student Eligibility Requirements Imposed by Legislatures (p29)
  • Student Eligibility Requirements Imposed by Colleges and Universities (p32)
  • Remuneration for Interns (p35)
  • Academic Credit and Educational Benefits for Interns (p39)
  • Evaluations of Intern Performance (p43)


 Table 1:  Responses from internship programs covering legislatures in the following states (p2)

Table 2:  Educational Level of Internship Programs Responding to the Survey (p2)

Table 3:  Legislative Internship Programs by State (p4)

Table 4:  The source of interns for reported state legislative internship programs (p14)

Table 5:  For what offices does your program provide interns? (Responses based upon the number of programs)  (p16)

Table 6:  For what offices does your program provide interns? (Responses  based upon the percentage of programs) Management of Legislative Internship Programs (p17)

Table 7:  Who primarily managers your legislative internship program? (p19)

Table 8:  During the legislative session (or other periods when interns are work) (p20) what proportion of the legislative manager’s time, or the faculty or university manager’s time, is devoted to the internship program?

Table 9:  Who is responsible for placing interns in their offices and coordinating their work? (p21)

Table 10:  Who funds your internship program? (p22)

Table 11:  Do you have any published materials that describe your program? (p22)

Table 12:  Do you have a website that provides information about your internships? (p23)

Table 13:  Approximately how many intern positions do you offer annually? (p24)

Table 14:  How long are your internships? (p25)

Table 15:  How long are the internships by level of program? (p25)

Table 16:  How many hours per week do the interns in your program typically work? (p27)

Table 17:  Why types of work are interns typically given? (p29)

Table 18:  Which, if any, of the following eligibility requirements does the legislature specify (see next question for university requirements) for students to be eligible for an internship? (p31)

Table 19:  Which, if any, of the following eligibility requirements does any participating university, college or school specifies for students to be eligible for an internship? (p32)

Table 20:  Are your internships paid a salary or an hourly wage? (p36)

Table 21:  Crosstabulation of Paid and Unpaid Internship with the Source of Interns (p36)

Table 22:  How are interns paid? (p37)

Table 23:  Which one of the following benefits do interns receive? (p39)

Table 24:  Do they earn academic credits for the internship? (p40)

Table 25:  Does the legislature provide classes or seminars to help education interns about the legislature and their work? (p41)

Table 26:  Does the university, college or school provide classes or seminars to help educate interns about the legislature and their work? (p42)

Table 27:  Are the interns evaluated on their performance? (p43)

Table 28:  Who provides or participates in the evaluation? (p44)

Table 29:  How important is each of the following typical goals of legislative internships to your program? (p46)

Table 30:  How satisfied are you with your internship program’s performance in achieving these goals? (p47)

Key Findings 

Survey responses indicated that legislative internship programs have been established and are in operation to fulfill four important goals.  In order of overall importance, they are:


    1. Provide staff support to the legislature;
    2. Educate students about the legislature and representative democracy;
    3. Attract or recruit future legislative staff; and
    4. Fulfill university, college, or school internship or service learning requirements. 

However, there are differences in the importance ranking of these four goals on the basis of the educational level of the internship programs.  College level internship programs report having the goal to “educate students about the legislature and representative democracy” as the most important, whereas graduate internship programs report to “provide staff support to the legislature” and “attract and recruit future legislative staff” as being most important.  The majority of respondents were satisfied or very satisfied with their internship program’s performance in achieving each of these goals.

  • Nearly all state legislatures participate in legislative internship programs, but their participation is sometimes passive rather than active.  This may take the form, for example, of the legislative institution simply being aware that one or more internship programs involve their elected members or professional staffers, without the application of particular purposes or objectives of value to the legislature as a whole.
  • There is immense variety in the kinds of college and graduate internship programs, the involvement of elected legislators and nonpartisan and partisan legislative staff agencies, and the nature of participation by institutions of higher education, in these internships.  It is as accurate to apply the appellation “laboratories of democracy” to these diverse internships as it is to apply the term to the fifty state legislatures or state governments.  Such internships are also laboratories of service and learning. 

Posted August 4, 2006