ON college campuses, the annual race for summer internships, many of them unpaid, is well under way. But instead of steering students toward the best opportunities and encouraging them to value their work, many institutions of higher learning are complicit in helping companies skirt a nebulous area of labor law.
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.
Unless you’re being subsidized by your parents or crashing on couches, unpaid internships are impossible.
I was lucky enough to intern at an art gallery on 57th & Madison from 1996-1998 when in college. When the second summer came around I insisted that they pay for my transportation from New Jersey in addition to the whopping $7 an hour they paid me.
Realizing the bargain they were getting for someone who could hang all the paintings and photography for shows, deliver packages to clients and purchase and configure all the computers in the gallery, they agreed.
Internships are extremely valuable for kids starting out their careers but while the head start they provide in establishing relationships and acquiring practical skills is great, many employers aren’t meeting students halfway when they don’t pay them.