Unpaid internships favor privileged students, creates white workforce

“Opportunity” is a word often poorly ascribed to unpaid positions, where interns work long hours watching their bosses rush around the office and order copies. If they are lucky, they might uncover a small gem of that other mystic form of compensation, which employers call “experience in the field.”

In a city like Austin, there never seems to be a shortage of opportunity. Across the city, startups fueled by competitive young minds abound, powered by graduates anxious to ensure a future outside of academia.

New job and internship posts are not difficult to find, so for most college students, it is only a matter of applying to several places and giving a great interview. However, despite the prevalence of this opportunity for students, many simply can’t afford to take advantage.

However, the experience and the resume line aside, most students who take unpaid internships aren’t getting enough of what they need to stay in school and get by: a salary.

Older generations have probably given up on my generation, claiming that we are ungrateful and entitled, and that money is not a match for experience. Anyways, why would anybody want to pay the poor sot who can’t even seem to make office coffee correctly?

Although plenty of places offer great internships to students who are eager to take them, regardless of the pay, there is also an overwhelming number of students who are either already working a job (or several) to support themselves, meaning that unpaid internships do nothing to diminish an already hyper-demanding work culture.

Today, an unpaid internship is a luxury, afforded by only those students who are fortunate enough to be funded by their parents and scholarships or those who have to take out loans and work tireless hours – only to be able to afford more work.

Although the experience gained from an unpaid internship may pay off in the form of a good job, it’s not a guarantee. Though a good job might reveal itself to the unpaid intern, it may still not be enough to pay the bills. Debt and stress pile on, and hours that could have been spent studying are wasted working to complete an ominous cycle that will continue long after the student gets out of school.

This is problematic not only for students who are excluded from opportunities that their better-faring peers have access to, but also for employers, who significantly narrow their selection of students to a paltry few in comparison to the numbers of the many willing on university campuses.

The result is often a vanilla office culture comprised of the same well-off white male population that has traditionally dominated American industry.

Unfortunately, it looks the same on college campuses, where some, if not all intern positions are typically unpaid positions.

Although it is not always possible for universities to provide funds for student interns, they should consider compensating their students with something more than just experience.

Of all corporations, universities should know best how important it is to pay students; it keeps them in school and it helps level out a blatantly uneven playing field. It is especially important for those universities that house a large volume of  international students, who often have much less access to transportation and job opportunities than American students.

The bottom line is that more paid internships would be ideal. Even if compensation is light, in the form of a stipend, or a reduction of tuition – or, in St. Edward’s case, free meal plan – it will be worth a lot to the student who might become the next executive director.