For many students looking to gain valuable work experience and make an income, unpaid internships can be an unfortunate reality. Although the Georgetown University Student Association should be commended for its recent efforts to financially support students pursuing these opportunities, it is vital that both GUSA and the university actively build on this initiative to secure a long-term funding source for this program and ensure equal access to internship opportunities for students from all backgrounds.
As The Hoya reported last week, GUSA is working to develop a program that would provide low- and middle-income students with stipends to support their work at unpaid internships. Though the details about the program are limited, the funding would ideally allow these students to receive stipends commensurate to what they would earn if they took a job instead of the internship.
The dilemma of the unpaid internship continues to plague Georgetown students who are caught between the chance for valuable experience and the financial infeasibility of this opportunity. The very notion of unpaid work is unethical, but it is unlikely that employers will change their ways en masse. As such, the university and GUSA must intervene to support students financially and remedy this unfair system, which allows wealthier students to more easily take internship opportunities.
GUSA’s initiative and efforts thus far are commendable, but both GUSA and the university must commit to following through on this program, rather than merely pay it lip service as a future possibility.
The administration has expressed support for this stipend program, but has yet to make a concrete pledge to dedicate initial funds or other resources. The university should make a firm commitment to support the program, be willing to provide at least a portion of the initial funding for a flagship program and dedicate itself to helping find other sources of funding.
More importantly, GUSA and the university must work toward establishing an endowment specifically for the purpose of funding this program; GUSA President Kamar Mack (COL ’19) noted that an endowment would be “the long-term goal.” An endowment would be the most sustainable way to fund the program, as it would avoid increases in tuition or the Student Activities Fee to provide the funding.
This strategy has been successful at peer institutions. For example, George Washington University’s Knowledge in Action Career Internship Fund — which provides funding to GWU students “to pursue high-quality, necessarily unpaid internships” — is made possible through the generous support of alumni and parents, according to its website.
Beyond the matter of funding, GUSA should carefully consider access to this program. As of now, it appears the Cawley Career Education Center would manage the distribution of these stipends, screening potential candidates based on their career goals and socio-economic status.
This effort to create equitable access to internships for students of all backgrounds should be lauded. Moreover, these stipends would be immensely helpful for not only low-income students, such as those who belong to the Georgetown Scholarship Program, but also for many students who may not qualify for the financial support provided by GSP but still cannot afford to work an unpaid internship.
Students should be evaluated for future jobs on the basis of their merits, not on their financial abilities; yet the financial challenges of an unpaid internship often mean that low- and middle-income students are unable to secure these opportunities that would undoubtedly help them in future career paths.
Preparing students to be competitive applicants for postgraduate careers is a key function of any university. Neglecting to support low- and middle-income students in opportunities that offer necessary experience and training is the university’s failure to accept its responsibility and advantages wealthy students in the job market.
This stipend program, if successfully funded, would offer students of all backgrounds opportunities to pursue their career interests and passions without compromising their financial security, making it more feasible for them to compete in the job market with students from higher socio-economic backgrounds.
Internships give students training and experience that are crucial to obtaining a job in any field. Students of low- and middle-income backgrounds should not be shut out of the competitive job recruitment process simply because it is not financially feasible for them to work at an unpaid internship rather than a job. Hopefully, GUSA’s internship stipend program will work to mitigate this issue.