The price of unpaid internships

By: Alize Rosado

NIAGARA UNIVERSITY, N.Y.- Internships are one of the most pivotal points in a college student’s career, and there’s no denying their value. They provide experience, give students a trial run in their future career and often teach lessons that can’t be taught in a classroom. There is one major problem students face with internships: the pay, or rather, the lack thereof.

In 2016, about half of the 1.5 million internships were unpaid. The main problem with unpaid internships is that many students simply cannot afford to accept these and subsequently are put at a disadvantage compared to their peers. Unpaid internships systematically benefit students who come from middle to upper-class families since often these students have other means of support and can financially afford to take an unpaid internship.

Unpaid internships also hurt diversity in the workplace. Minority students are more likely to come from lower class families and often are the ones who can’t afford to take an unpaid internship. These students are usually the ones who could benefit the most from these learning experiences since oftentimes they are not presented with the same opportunities other students have growing up.

Companies have recently been accused of exploiting students. While some students do receive class credit for internship hours, in many cases course credit is not a substantial substitute for pay. Tuition is already an out of pocket cost for a large number of students, so in reality, they’re paying for a class to take this internship.

So what’s the solution? Perhaps more companies should shift their mindset into paying their interns. If companies are paying their interns they might start investing more into these students, giving them more meaningful tasks and setting them up for their future. In fact, The National Association of Colleges and Employers found that 63 percent of students who had a paid internship were offered jobs after graduating, compared to 37 percent of students who were unpaid.

While unpaid internships are seemingly mutually beneficial for both the student and employer, the reality is that they can do more harm than good. Moving forward, companies can still provide a lower wage compared to their current employees, and students will still be able to gain those same benefits and have a head start for their future.

Photo by Lyncconf Games licensed under Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

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