If you have been to college in the last 2o years, an internship was likely part of your valuable learning process. Interns must be paid at for-profit companies — either by the company or the school — or else one risks abusing volunteer student work as slave labor.
When I was in the three-year MFA program at Columbia University, we had four semesters of intensive, pre-programmed courses, followed by an entire year of internship at two different places. Since some of us were interning at for-profit entities and others of us at non-profit institutions, Columbia paid us all directly, and equally, for our work.
I believe the total internship pay was around $2,500.00USD a semester. At the time, that was quite a fine living wage, and we were all anxious to enter our internship year to start finally making some money.
I directly credit my Columbia internship year with the massive, and long-lasting, successes, friendships, and professional connections in my life.
I was disturbed to read in a recent New York Times article that the internship program — a valuable learning process tool — is being abused in the workplace and by the schools:
Colleges and universities have become cheerleaders and enablers of the unpaid internship boom, failing to inform young people of their rights or protect them from the miserly calculus of employers. In hundreds of interviews with interns over the past three years, I found dejected students resigned to working unpaid for summers, semesters and even entire academic years — and, increasingly, to paying for the privilege. …
Three-quarters of the 10 million students enrolled in America’s four-year colleges and universities will work as interns at least once before graduating, according to the College Employment Research Institute. Between one-third and half will get no compensation for their efforts, a study by the research firm Intern Bridge found. Unpaid interns also lack protection from laws prohibiting racial discrimination and sexual harassment.
The United States Department of Labor says an intern at a for-profit company may work without pay only when the program is similar to that offered in a vocational school, benefits the student, does not displace a regular employee and does not entitle the student to a job; in addition, the employer must derive “no immediate advantage” from the student’s work and both sides must agree that the student is not entitled to wages.
We here at the Boles Blogs Network started our Virtual Internship program in 1996 with Go Inside Magazine. We were delighted to be one of the first online entities to offer for-credit school internships on the internet, and here’s a quick list of where some of our interns were attending school while writing with us:
- Karl-Franzens Graz University
- George Mason University Department of English
- Hollins University Writing Program
- Rider University
- SUNY-Old Westbury Department of American Studies
- Union College
- Florida State University
- Old Dominion University
- Western Maryland College
- Swarthmore College
We have never taken a dollar of advertising. None of our writers have ever been paid. We write together. We are in this world together. There are no back end deals. We are completely transparent in publication and that’s why our internship programs works so well. We give back more than we take in and that is an increasingly rare inequality in the workplace that we are totally happy to keep perpetuating.