Increasing equitable access to internships

Landing internships can be an important part of college students’ professional development and often pave the way to post-college career and economic success. However, some students, especially those from historically underrepresented backgrounds have difficulty accessing those internships, The Hechinger Report says.

An increasing number of employers, particularly big finance, consulting, and tech companies, are recruiting and hiring new employees from their pool of college interns. Nearly 85% of employers surveyed by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) said that internships are their top recruiting method for entry-level hires, far above career fairs, campus visits, and campus panels. Increased intern hiring has led to a larger push for students to get practical experience earlier in their college careers, experts say.

“At any college now, the first thing the parents ask is, ‘How are the internships?’” Anthony Carnevale, director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, says. “It’s a prized commodity.”

Related: Big tech internships, job offers less likely for low-income students >

Laying the foundation for career success

More students and families are concerned about the return on investment of a college education, often measured by career prospects among bachelor’s degree holders. A recent report from the Strada Education Foundation’s Institute for the Future of Work and The Burning Glass Institute found that 52% of adults with only a bachelor’s degree were underemployed—or in jobs that typically do not require a college degree—a year after graduation, Higher Ed Dive reports. Even a decade after graduation, that number was 45%. Investing in quality career counseling, transparency about what kinds of jobs students end up in, and increasing pathways to paid internships can decrease chances of underemployment. 

“The first job after graduation is critical,” the report says. Students who complete internships have higher rates of college-level employment, and those who start off in college-level jobs rarely experience underemployment, researchers say.

Making internships more accessible

According to data collected by NACE, 62% of students in the undergraduate Class of 2023 completed an internship in college. That rate is significantly higher at highly selective institutions like the University of Pennsylvania, where almost 90% of students completed an internship, according to the university’s career services office. At the City College of New York, where Pell Grant-recipients comprise two-thirds of the undergraduate student population, that rate falls to just 35% to 40% of students, school administrators told The Hechinger Report.

Many of those coveted summer or semester-long opportunities lock out undergraduates from low-income backgrounds because they are unpaid or offer small stipends and require students to cover the cost of transportation and housing.

To ensure that students have more accessible pathways to paid internships or are subsidized for their internships, City College sponsors paid internships with faculty and college centers, and partners with organizations that help place students in paid summer or academic-year internships. For students who need more flexible options that work around other academic and year-round employment obligations, internship providers and organizations such as The Washington Center, a nonprofit that helps college students find internships, are creating virtual micro-internships and online professional development training to reach students where they are.

Georgetown University’s Idol Family Fellowship

The Idol Family Fellowship Program is one way Georgetown University provides financial and programmatic support to first-generation and low-income students as they participate in full-time summer internships in the Washington, DC, metropolitan area. In collaboration with The Capitol Applied Learning Labs (the CALL), the program provides fellows with housing and a stipend to cover summer expenses. Fellows live together as a supportive community, attending professional development seminars, on- and off-campus networking opportunities, and off-campus social events.

Related: Photo essay: An inside look at life as a Georgetown student in the CALL >

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