College students today are tasked with finding internships before they graduate to gain real-world working experiences. However, the wide range in how interns are compensated, or not, leads to inequitable access to internships. That’s why it’s important to offer students more than just unpaid internships for academic credit.
In order to graduate, students need a certain number of academic credits, which is what they receive for completing a course. While academic credit is a form of compensation, not offering an additional monetary stipend or salary can be unethical. During unpaid internships for academic credit, students are essentially paying through their tuition, which continues to increase every year, to receive job experience.
Making students work for free, and essentially requiring them to pay their institution for it is legal. In fact, it is the way many employers skirt around paying their interns. Many times, these students also have to pay out-of-pocket for gas and other expenses to even get to their internships - and they are often not given any support from their universities. This method of practice hinders students, who might have to take up additional work in order to cover costs, and forces them to fork over hundreds to thousands of dollars for a job they should be getting paid for.
That isn’t all - there are companies who thrive on matching unpaid interns with companies under the guise of academic credit. These companies tout the unpaid experience as one to enhance their journey towards full-time work. However, unpaid internships have been shown to have a bad track record of turning into full-time employment. Academic credit does not solve the question at the heart of this debate, which is how to expand opportunities to more people.
A study conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers found that offering more than academic credit, i.e. payment, for traditionally unpaid internships dramatically increased the number of people willing to participate. While there are surely many students who are willing to work for academic credit, there are many who simply can’t for geographic and socioeconomic reasons. Bright and motivated students who want to help improve the world might not be able to access life-changing opportunities because they can’t afford to take internships for only academic credit.
When one Googles “unpaid internships for academic credit,” thousands of search results come up from various institutions, all promoting the same idea. While there are certain guidelines for unpaid versus paid internships, these guidelines are loose and can be easily misunderstood.
Symba advocates for students and encourages organizations to pay their interns fairly with monetary compensation. Through our work to #SaveInternships and help organizations take internship programs remote, we are bridging the gap between underrepresented groups and fulfilling, paid internships.
By Anika Pasilis