Last semester, I had the amazing opportunity to spend four months in Washington D.C., where I took journalism classes at American University and interned downtown three days a week. I loved my internship and my classes, but the economic downside of the program was a lot to bear. Living expenses were three times what I was used to paying in Waco, and the internship I accepted was unpaid. My hard-earned savings were gone in a matter of months, and I crawled back home with an empty bank account and a sour taste in my mouth.
Because of my finances, I avoided applying for internships outside of Waco this summer so that I could stay at home. I was still able to work at a great internship and learned valuable information, but was struck by how easily economics can get in the way of professional development. That’s when I got to calculating.
In the two programs that I am enrolled in, an 18 or 20-hours-per-week internship can take the place of certain three-hour courses. A student who chooses to intern in the summer, to receive the slightly cheaper summer tuition rate, would rack up $3,861 in tuition plus the $121 general student fee. A typical internship lasts from 13 to 16 weeks, meaning that if the student chose to work the number of hours required for the internship at Texas minimum wage, they would make a total of $2,320 that summer. For students that are economically self-reliant, this would not be feasible.
To avoid this, some might encourage students to take internships without trying to have them count as course credit. All this does is create a three-hour gap for the student to pay for at another time, perhaps not during a summer tuition period. The money earned by the internship might support the student for the summer, but when the semester comes around, they will still be three-hours further from their degree and will have to pay tuition for those hours at a later date instead of having the three-hours from their internship already under their belt.
Another option might be to live at home and intern, allowing students to save some of their income. Again, this does not solve the problem of paying more tuition than the amount the student is earning, although if the student lived in a higher paying state, like California, they would make $3,680 during a 16-week period, allowing them to almost cover their summer tuition.
I have a few propositions: first, colleges should not charge tuition for internship class credit. The same notion goes for education majors who work for a full semester and pay full tuition without pay. Second, internships no longer have the right to be unpaid. In today’s world, unpaid internships are a cruel notion. The bait of a possible job waiting at the end of a full semester’s fishing rod is no longer satisfying enough. My internship led to a freelance position, and I can confidently say that in the last five months, it has not made back what I might have earned for 25-hours-per-week at Washington D.C. minimum wage, which is the highest in the country.
These propositions are not just economical, they are asking for respect. Students should not have to choose between a semester working at In-and-Out or an internship of considerable value because of the paycheck. Colleges should encourage internships not only through cute posters and advisors but through economic means. Having work experience is one of the best ways to secure a better job post-graduation, and students should be able to reach that goal without being forced into more economic hardship than obtaining their degree already does. Nix the tuition and the encouragement to take unpaid internships. Sincerely, the economically minded students of your school.