AS ACADEMICS in Boston, we were interested to see “New experience: Interns pay to work’’ (Page A1, May 31). While we were pleased to see the coverage, we felt that the article left out the issue of access.
Many college students cannot afford to spend their summers at unpaid internships. Financially strapped students are at a disadvantage to classmates who can dedicate 20 hours a week to free labor. The disadvantaged are often first-generation college students or students from underrepresented groups — the students who most need the advantages and connections that internships provide. When they miss this opportunity in their career ladders, they graduate and enter the job market with additional handicaps.
Higher education institutions have an obligation to facilitate the success of all of their students, particularly those who need additional help making future career connections. Some colleges work to alleviate this disparity by providing stipends and course credit for the internship work. The savvier institutions have benefited from donations from generous alumni and have pursued funding through grant programs. We have found that internship programs that provide these incentives to their students tend to have greater success with regard to career outcomes. The students take their work experiences more seriously, and the pool of students who are able to participate in internship programs is diversified.
We recommend that colleges and universities play an active role in shaping student internships in order to reach underserved student populations, provide a meaningful learning experience for students, and prevent abuse of unpaid student workers.
Doherty is an assistant professor and internship coordinator in the political science department at Simmons College, and Churchill is executive director of the higher-education blog University of Venus.