Many students take advantage of the summertime to dip their toes into post-graduate life with an internship. Some use it as a networking tool; some use it as a way to explore their career options. Others use it to fulfill a degree requirement.
Having an internship as a degree requirement is not uncommon in college, even at Iowa State, but when internships are unpaid or low-paying, they can turn into another barrier to graduation for low-income students.
According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), 43% of internships in 2017 were unpaid. When these internships are tied to an academic requirement, students still have to pay tuition for however many credits the internship fills.
For example, if an internship translates as a three-credit class, a student has to enroll in that course for the time they are working. Even if they aren’t paid for their work as an intern, they would still pay at least $1,272 in tuition and fees, alongside any costs for transportation, temporary relocation, housing or anything else.
That’s not to say internships aren’t valuable. Internships provide students with relevant work experience, which 65% of employers are looking for in college graduates, according to NACE. NACE also found that first-generation students, who tend to have lower incomes, reported their internships as having a greater impact on their career readiness than non-first-generation students did.
However, that same study also found that first-generation students are more likely to take unpaid internships and be exploring work in non-profit or government jobs, which are less often required to pay interns. When the internship isn't providing any income, students have to pick up a second — or even a third — job to keep up with expenses, leaving them with even less time to focus on anything related to their education.
First generation students — and the larger group of low-income students, disproportionately composed of women and students of color — already come to college with a lower chance of graduating, according to College for America’s analysis of data from the National Center for Education Statistics, and requiring an internship either limits their potential areas of study from the start or leaves them struggling to afford to keep up with their classmates.
When these students enter Iowa State, they can find help at the Office of Student Financial Aid and Career Services to help them find and prepare for internships, but requiring those internships puts a roadblock right in the list of degree requirements.