Guest Column: Bridging the gap between unpaid work and experience

Heba Dafashy

If you are graduating from college in May, there is one thing on your mind: life post-graduation. More than ten years ago, graduating with a college degree was sure to give you an edge in the work force. A high GPA was thought of as a plus and almost your golden ticket to a post-graduation job. However, despite graduating with a 4.0 GPA, these things will only get you so far in today’s job market.

What sets students apart from their peers in the current seemingly impenetrable job market? The answer is internships.

A 2010 study by the National Association of Colleges and Employers found that 42.3 percent of the seniors who had internship experience and applied for a job received at least one job offer, while only 30.7 percent of seniors without internship experience who applied for a job received an offer.

Various universities have realized the importance of internship experience and have taken serious initiatives to motivate students to intern. Some universities have even made internship experience a graduation requirement for all students. It would seem unfeasible for a large university such as U. Texas to require internship experience among all graduates, but is the University doing enough to promote internship experience and make interning accessible to all students?

Over the last decade, UT developed programs such as the Bill Archer Fellowship Program, where UT students live and intern in Washington, D.C., for a semester while earning in-residence credit, and the UT Semester in Los Angeles Program. Such programs offer students some of the best experiences of their college careers. However, they are limited to only a small number of students per semester.

As paid internships are rare, one of the biggest drawbacks to interning is the lack of pay for students. Many students cannot afford to spend a summer or a semester working for free, as they have tuition and other finances to pay. Although many universities promote the importance of internships, few discuss this critical aspect of interning.

One may say that as an intern, a student can earn college credit for their work, which will make up for the lack of pay. Although this may be true for internships during the school year, summer internships are not always counted as course credit. In order for an internship to translate into summer course credit, many students must enroll into the summer session and pay for summer tuition. In other words, some students will work for free and then have to pay almost $2,000 to the University to obtain the credit.

To preach the importance of internships and genuinely promote this experience among students, UT must find a way to bridge the gap between unpaid work and gaining experience. One way to do this is to develop a program where a student receives a salary or even a stipend from the University while working in an unpaid internship. This would truly promote internship experience among students and therefore increase the opportunity of post-graduation employment. However in times such as these, where University funds are short, UT could also allow all summer interns to receive credit without paying the full summer tuition.

These measures are key to promoting internship experience among students. In addition to the natural competitive edge in the job market that comes with being a Longhorn, UT students will gain increased attention from future employers with internship experiences.

Daily Texan, U. Texas via UWIRE.