With an ever-increasing focus on a so-called gap in skills that willing employers complain today’s emerging workforce just doesn’t have, an emphasis on in-school job training has accelerated the already established benefit of college internships.
But with college costs rising right along with that trend, there is a fear that some students may have to turn down what otherwise might be a perfect-fit internship if it isn’t a paid position and they rely on income to offset their tuition and living costs.
A new program at Johnson & Wales University aims to aid those students and further encourage them to pursue an off-campus education that best would benefit their future career plans. The university has created an annual $4 million fund to provide stipends to students for unpaid internships.
“It was truly a monumental decision, because it is a serious amount of funding. We feel this will have a direct impact on their learning and potential for career success,” said Maureen Dumas, vice president of experiential education and career services. “It gives more opportunity to a student to get that exposure to industry.”
The fund stretches across all four JWU campuses in Providence, North Miami, Fla., Denver, Colo., and Charlotte, N.C., but Providence will receive, Dumas, probably the “lion’s share” of money because it is the largest campus.
About 70 percent of students with internships at JWU in Providence take them unpaid. This year 2,400, or just under 22 percent, of the campus’ 11,000 undergraduate students will have an internship.
That’s a 14 percent spike over last year, when the stipend program first became available.
Students are eligible for the $1,500 stipend twice within their academic career at JWU and can apply it to internships during any semester, regardless of whether the position garners them course credit.
The concern over access to complimentary internships for students isn’t limited, of course, to Johnson & Wales and the discussion over compensation goes beyond stipends and financial feasibility.
Patricia Goff, associate director of the Center for Career Education at Providence College, said there is a “nationwide” debate over fair compensation for internship positions.
The U.S. Department of Labor in 2010 revised criteria under the Fair Labor Standards Act to determine whether interns would be paid minimum wage and overtime for their work.
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