There is no question that internships provide students with valuable work experiences. In a 2017 study investigating the benefits of student internships on career outcomes, researchers found that 53 percent of graduates from the four-year internship program at Endicott College (Mass.) received post-graduation employment through their internships. Eighty-one percent of these graduates reported that their internship helped them choose their career paths. A 2015 survey showed that 60 percent of employers would be more likely to consider a candidate with internship experience. Yet not everyone has equal access to this useful opportunity.
Internships, paid or unpaid, contribute to a system that continuously disadvantages low-income and minority students. Emory should work toward offering more comprehensive assistance for summer internships.
College students in nonprofit, civic and humanities-based careers are typically expected to work in unpaid internships, and those without the ability to foot the bill for summer expenses must often forego these opportunities. Unfortunately, the average cost of living in one of the top-choice cities for internships is $6,200. Such expenses can be hard for students to bear, especially if they are already paying tens of thousands of dollars for tuition.
Additionally, unpaid internships often force students to make the difficult choice between a paid summer job and a career-oriented but unpaid internship. About half of the internships in the United States are unpaid, according to The Guardian. Many low-income and middle-class students depend on paychecks to afford school and living costs throughout the semester. A student who works 40 hours a week making the $7.25 federal minimum wage could earn around $3,480 in three months. But when students take unpaid internships, they forfeit the wages that could have been used for tuition, living costs and expenses throughout the semester.
Furthermore, the unaffordability of unpaid summer internships disproportionately affects students of color. For many individuals, summer internship living expenses are paid for by providers like parents or other family members. Considering the average family wealth among African Americans is seven times lower than that of white families, it can be harder for those families to support students pursuing unpaid internships.
Proponents of internships encourage low-income students to compete for the few paid internships to help fund their summer experience. However, paid internships also create barriers to internship opportunities. Primarily, paid internships are often hard to obtain without prior connections. Forty-three percent of the students who have had internships received them through family connections, according to a survey conducted by student-loan refinancing company LendEDU. For low-income and first-generation students, connections to well-paying internships are significantly harder to find. In a 2016 New York Times op-ed, President of the Ford Foundation Darren Walker wrote that “America’s current internship system … contributes to an economy in which access and opportunity go to the people who already have the most of both.”
Universities should take initiative to provide valuable assistance to low-income and minority students in order to facilitate equal access to opportunities that can make or break a student’s future. The University of Chicago’s Jeff Metcalf Internship Program offers $4,000 stipends to over 2,000 students for 10-week internships. Pace University (N.Y.) and Macalester College (Minn.) offer grants and stipends for students taking internships in sectors that have fewer paid opportunities.
Emory, on the other hand, has a relatively small amount of programs that offer stipends to students taking unpaid internships. The most available program is an annual program available for just 15 college students and only offers $1,500 for the entire summer. That’s less than half of the summer housing expenses for a two-bedroom, two-bath apartment on Emory’s campus. Recently elected SGA President Ben Palmer (18Ox, 20C) addressed this inadequacy in his campaign platform. Palmer emphasized the need to both expand programs offered to Emory students and improve the process of educating students about the programs that Emory offers. As many students secure their own summer internships and the expenses that come with them, the student body will likely keep these promises in mind. It will be crucial to see how Palmer enacts these changes in the coming year.
As a school that champions its support for its low-income and middle-class families, Emory should take tangible actions to provide valuable support and to invest in the futures of the most disadvantaged members of its community.
Alexandra Grouzis (21C) is from Nashville, Tenn.