Section: Opinion

Stop the intern credit crunch

By Gabrielle Healy

Point-one-nine. That’s less than half of the credit offered for typical academic classes at Kenyon. It’s also what the College offers students whose summer internship offers academic credit in lieu of payment. Academic compensation of .19 credit (maybe it should be called a “cr-,” since it’s such a small fraction of normal class credit) seems too little for a progressive school like Kenyon.

One excellent program already available to allay the problem of unpaid internships is Kenyon’s summer internship stipend, which provides monetary compensation through the College for a student working unpaid for at least 270 hours. This is an excellent partial solution. However, at this point, this program may only be put toward one summer, so if a student does the legwork and is offered additional unpaid internships, she will have to try to get the credit or simply volunteer her time. To me, this system isn’t aware of a job market that relies more and more on the experience a student has, and not just her academic work.

I’m not arguing that any random internship should be available for more credit, because that system would be hugely flawed. Similar to the summer stipend fund, students should have to submit a proposal with letters of reference, and a way for the committee to contact the internship providers and be assured of its legitimacy. Importantly, this vetting system would be another way to keep employers on the hook and make sure that students get actual training at these internships, and not just fetch coffee and take the trash out.

While schools like Columbia and Harvard Universities have made the news lately for refusing to offer academic credit for internships to incentivize companies to pay their interns, that seems like only a partial solution that privileges those who can afford to work unpaid. For example, an internship with the Paris Review would be an irreplaceable opportunity for an English major interested in the literary world. However, the Paris Review only offers academic credit.

I feel that a student talented enough to get that position should be rewarded. An additional example of a competitive internship that happens to be unpaid is a Senate internship. According to an August 2013 article in the Atlantic (“How the Senate exploits unpaid interns”), only a third of the Senate offers paid internships. Compensating for systemic flaws like this is a great opportunity for Kenyon to be a leader and prioritize experiential learning as well as traditional methods.

Hopefully sometime soon employers will come around and fairly compensate all interns monetarily, increasing the range of students who can use internships to learn the skills they need while making the connections to begin a successful career. It is incredibly unfair that interns are frequently expected to work full-time with as much responsibility as an entry-level position with no pay, and that this system privileges those who can afford to work unpaid. But until then, I hope students, faculty and administrators will work together to come up with a system that more fully benefits current students figuring out what they’d like to achieve after Kenyon. We’re already doing well; now let’s do better. 

Gabrielle Healy ’18 is undeclared from Fairhaven, Mass. She can be reached at healyg@kenyon.edu.

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