Students need internships, but can't always afford them

Internships are vital for students to secure jobs after graduation.

Research has found that employers tend to hire roughly 50% of their interns as full-time employees, and 80% of employers consider internships to be a recruiting tool. However, many low-income students can't afford to take unpaid internships—and most organizations in the nonprofit, arts, and social services fields can't afford to pay interns.

In a recent article for the New York Times, Anemona Hartocollis rounds up ways that colleges are stepping in to fill the funding gap.

The University of Chicago (UChicago) has created two programs that help fund internships. The Jeff Metcalf Internship Program, which places 2,000 interns per year, gives a $4,000 grant for unpaid internships. And the Odyssey Scholars program guarantees an internship to low-income student participants during the summer after their first year of college.

"We don't want our students to pick a field because it pays and overlook another field because it doesn't pay for an internship," says Meredith Daw, executive director of career advancement at UChicago.

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Pace University and Macalester College also work to empower students to consider working at nonprofit organizations.

"We're not trying to proselytize with these students, but we'd like their eyes to be open to the second and third sectors in our economy," says Rebecca Tekula, executive director of Pace's Wilson Center for Social Entrepreneurship. The Wilson Center places students at several nonprofits in the New York City area and pays those without stipends $16 an hour. Roughly 120 students have participated since 2009.

Mindy Deardurff, dean of career development at Macalester's St. Paul campus, echoes Tekula's sentiment. "This is an opportunity to try on a career no matter what their interest or major or their economic situation is," she says. Last year, Macalester helped 50 students take internships with a social mission, such as helping to integrate tuberculosis services into one state's health system.

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Amherst College and Colgate University have tapped alumni for help funding internship stipend programs. This year, alumni gifts and a grant from the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation allowed more than 200 Amherst students to complete internships at nonprofits and small start-ups. Colgate has raised $4 million for its stipend program over the past five years, allowing roughly 200 students per year to take internships with low or no pay.

Amherst and Colgate also use their programs to support experiential learning opportunities beyond the traditional internship. More than 80% of Amherst students go to graduate or professional school, so the college funds related activities, such as research internships and study abroad. At Colgate, students can write their own grant proposals and receive help from the university in finding a host organization, designing an internship, and funding the experience.

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It's a positive sign that schools are taking steps to address the financial barriers to internships, says Natalia Alvarez Diaz, a student outcomes researcher at EAB. But higher ed leaders should note that there are additional barriers to internships beyond financial limitations, she argues.

First, Alvarez Diaz points out, students need sufficient time and credits to complete the internship—and this can be a barrier for transfer students, as one example. Second, she adds, they often need to possess specific skills to be selected. Nearly 75% of internship postings seek candidates with industry-specific skillsets in business, marketing, or other specialized fields.

"These days, you need experience in order to get experience," Alvarez Diaz says.

And even if everything else comes together—the requisite time, credit, skills, and financial resources—students still need to find an internship, she notes. "Local sponsor capacity is a big problem, especially for students from rural institutions or for students targeting internships in cities with lots of competition for the same opportunities," Alvarez Diaz says. Finally, she notes, many students will also lack the traditional off-campus networks that can give applicants a leg up in securing internship positions (Hartocollis, New York Times, 11/2).

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