The debate over whether or not unpaid internships should be permitted has only expanded over the last couple of years. Many articles have examined the ethics of businesses, politicians and universities offering unpaid internships. Internships are seen as a valuable way of practicing and applying the knowledge you gain through school to an actual occupational setting. Additionally, internships can help students network and gain contacts for future job searches. Since I have always heard that internships are necessary to career development, I was shocked to read that 43% of them are unpaid.
A recent survey commissioned by LendingTree found that 47% of respondents who participated in an unpaid internship amassed more debt to cover expenses. For students who already may have taken out loans to fund their education, this only adds to the overarching financial pressure they will face during and after they complete their degree. While it may have been a bit easier to manage an unpaid internship with other expenses a decade or two ago, the cost of daily expenditures and college tuition has only increased tremendously since then.
The other issue with this is that many students have to work during the summer to support expenses they may accrue during the academic year. It would make sense that as a student progresses with their college career, they may have to apply for various internships as a way to grow their resume. This can be tricky for students who come from lower-income circumstances because they may rely on that income from a summer job.
For many lower-income students who want to participate in internships that provide real-world working experiences, they must consider the tradeoff of the potential economic impact that not receiving compensation will create. Students with a higher-income background likely won’t have to direct as much attention to the economic returns of a position.
Another factor that may make unpaid internships less feasible for students is that professional attire may be required depending on the office setting or type of internship. Without some sort of compensation or stipend, students would have to front this cost from their own pockets. Students who are already struggling to pay for school will have even fewer funds available to pay for things such as clothing or even transportation.
Many internships occur in cities or areas beyond walking distance, so students must create the capital to pay for gas or bus tickets. This puts students who come from lower-income backgrounds in another unfavorable position since they may not have the same ease of a guaranteed means of commuting as students who already own a car or who can take on an internship without worrying about the location.
I was happy to learn that Fairfield University pledges up to $2,500 for students in the College of Arts and Sciences to cover costs associated with research opportunities or unpaid internships. I think this is a wonderful initiative because it gives students more mobility to choose an internship that truly best suits them and their interests, apart from their financial worries.
It is no secret that sometimes securing a summer internship can be a complex or even challenging process, especially with competitive areas of study and companies. Fairfield’s program allows students to apply to a broader range of internships instead of just paid ones. It also allows students who are interested in pursuing their own research experiences to do this without worrying about financial funding.
It would be beneficial and even necessary for more universities to implement programs similar to this one. Considering the dilemmas arising from unpaid internships, it is even more crucial to create similar supporting fellowships or programs for schools that mandate internships as a graduation requirement.