In today’s economy, students who want any chance at being competitive in the entry-level job market need to land one or two internships before graduating college.
Yet, approximately half of internships are unpaid, according to the Administrative Issues Journal, a university publication from Missouri State University and Rice University.
And students with paid internship experience receive 50 percent more job offers than students with unpaid internship or no internship experience, Johns Hopkins University Press reported.
Internships can provide valuable work experience for students to develop skills in their fields, and colleges requiring students to complete at least one internship will help them to network and make connections before they graduate. But interns should be paid like they would at any other full-time job.
Earlier this month, Temple launched a stipend program for rising sophomores, juniors and seniors working in external unpaid internships during Summer 2021. Those selected will receive a $2,000 stipend to support their employment as replacement compensation for the unpaid work.
But there’s a catch: to receive the stipend, the internship cannot count for course credit, meaning students who are required by their college to complete an internship may not be able to use this funding toward their graduation requirements. In addition, the stipend only currently applies to summer internships.
The unpaid internship stipend program helps students take internships with nonprofits like museums and other cultural institutions, wrote Raymond Betzner, a spokesperson for the university, in an email to The Temple News.
“These organizations often cannot afford to pay for this work,” Betzner wrote. “For students, the internship opens up career opportunities which can be extremely valuable.”
Temple deserves credit for creating this program that will allow students to work summer internships in industries they would not be able to otherwise because they don’t have the financial means to support themselves. But the university should permit students required to complete an internship for course credit to be eligible for the program so it is widely accessible to all students.
Emily Hart, a sophomore tourism and hospitality management major, struggles with balancing her internship, schoolwork and three other jobs this semester. As an intern for the Maryland Horse Industry Board, she conducts research on equine businesses, and while she enjoys her internship, she would not have to work multiple other jobs if it was paid, she said.
In the School of Sport, Tourism and Hospitality Management, students are required to complete two internships before graduating, according to the college’s undergraduate internship program.
“I never wanted an unpaid internship, and I do not generally think an internship should be considered an internship if it’s unpaid,” Hart said.
Kal Dereje, a senior Spanish major, is required to complete 100 hours of internship work by the end of the semester for her Spanish class. She is interning at two places, Congreso de Latinos Unidos and Mighty Writers, where she works on lesson plans for Latino adults preparing for the GED and helps with administrative tasks.
Neither internships are paid, she said.
“I do feel like quality of work would definitely be better if we were paid because there’s an incentive to work harder, but I still do what I can because these are incredible organizations helping people in marginalized communities,” Dereje said.
Obtaining and securing internships, even unpaid internships, is difficult during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In 2020, around 40 percent of college students lost an internship, job or job offer due to the pandemic, and nearly 60 percent of college students experienced food insecurity or homelessness, the Conversation reported.
Although several companies have shifted to virtual jobs and internships, the additional financial hardships of the COVID-19 pandemic have made it more difficult for students to work for free. Moreover, unpaid internships do little to support people for the unforeseeable future, and in-person and remote internships should be paid to alleviate the financial burden on students who lost their jobs due to COVID-19.
Temple’s Career Center works with students who need assistance finding internships and jobs. However, the goal of an internship differs from a job, said Kristen Gallo, the executive director of the Career Center.
“With students in an internship, especially in an unpaid role primarily based on flawed guidelines, it shows that the function should be that the intern is gaining experience that will help them in their professional path.” Gallo said. “But the reality is that there’s some industries like non-profits or even the federal government where the funding may simply not be there. They typically don’t pay, for example, summer interns.”
Granted, employers at external internships should be the ones paying their interns, and it is not Temple’s responsibility to do so. But the university can bridge the gap between paid and unpaid internships by expanding the stipend program it has in place to better align with the career paths students are already on in their academic programs.
While this new program is a good start, it still calls for improvement, as it is not useful for students who need to complete an internship for credit or for the duration of a whole semester.
Temple should work toward providing their students with more paid internships through their unpaid stipend program by extending it to count for course credit. Interns are just as vital to a company as any other position, and they should be recognized and reimbursed for the time and energy they put into their roles.