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Increasing number of students take unpaid internships, earn credit instead

By Kaitlin Schroeder
On February 20, 2012

Around this time of year, Miami University students are often hunting for summer internships. As they search, students are finding not all of these internships come with a paycheck.

Sue Martin, director of Career Services, said many Miami students will find themselves working unpaid internships or internships compensated only by credit hours.

"Are [the students] getting experience? Absolutely," Martin said. "But they still need to be valued. If you can value someone by paying them then that's great, but you can also value someone by getting them a stipend or free parking or tickets to the game, and I think students need to think about trying to negotiate for those things."

Patrick Haney, a political science professor, works with students from his department who intern and said in the current economy, he has seen a growing amount of work opportunities for unpaid interns.

"A lot of places have been more interested in having unpaid interns," Haney said.

Martin said some students with more money might have an easier time chasing after non-local internships that don't offer a paycheck.

"Does that make it very unfair what student can go to D.C. for the summer and get an internship and what student has to go home for the summer and wait tables to help pay for their education?" Martin said. "It does make a difference and it's unfair. If I could wave my magic wand and fix it, I would."

The university does not record how many students intern for pay or for credit hours. Haney said many students who intern do not file for credit at all.

"They often don't need the credit, but they will get billed for the credit so we don't see a lot of students taking them for credit," Haney said. "They don't want to get billed for the credit hour when they're working for free."

Martin said if students do file for credit for their internship they should try to negotiate for a stipend that will cover the cost of the credit hours.

Martin also said the nature of the internship may change based on a student's major.

"When big business tries to get interns and wants them to get credit and not get paid, I think they're doing a disservice to the student," she said.

In 2011, 46 percent of outgoing seniors reported interning while at Miami, according to a survey by the Office of Institutional Research at Miami.

Senior Lee Jones has worked three unpaid internships while at Miami. He did not file for credit for the two he worked during the summer.

Jones worked 40 hours per week at his most recent internship and was not able to hold a paying job during the summer. Despite this, he said he is glad he interned.

"My biggest thing when looking for an internship was good experience and wanting to build a resume," Jones said. "I never had the highest of hopes getting a paid internship and with all the other pluses surrounding the job I still took it."

Haney said it's important for students to intern, paid or unpaid, in order to gain experience, build networks and learn what specific careers they are interested in.

"The first job is a tough one to get so any help getting started on that is a boost," Haney said.

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