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When internships don’t pay, some colleges will

PUBLISH DATE 14th November 2017

Students Who Want To Work In Nonprofits But Can’t Afford It Without Stipend Get A Helping Hand

As the child of a divorced, unemployed mother, Shira Eisenberg learned to get by, she says, “on the kindness of strangers”. But even she was surprised when she arrived at the University of Chicago and was told that if she jumped through a few hoops, like going to seminars on how to behave at a job interview, she would be guaranteed a paid internship, financed by the university if no other source of money was available.

“Without the stipend, I would not have been able to afford it,” said Eisenberg, a sophomore majoring in computer science.

Internships have become a necessary credential in a highly competitive job market — about half of interns are offered a job by a company where they have interned, according to a 2017 survey by the US National Association of Colleges and Employers.

But for those thinking of careers in nonprofits, public service, social services or the arts, paid opportunities are scarce. Employers often can’t afford a stipend, and many students can’t afford to work for free. In response, campuses are using philanthropy and their own funds to subsidise internships at organisations that have a mission of social change or innovation.

Students can pursue their passion without worrying about how they will pay for food and housing, and for those who see Goldman Sachs in their future, it’s a chance to do good work.

“We don’t want our students to pick a field because it pays and overlook another field because it doesn’t pay for an internship,” said Meredith Daw of the University of Chicago. There are 2,000 placements each year through Chicago’s Jeff Metcalf Internship Programme. Employers agree to cover the salary — at least $11 an hour or the local minimum wage, whichever is higher. But when an organisation can’t afford to pay — 40% can’t — the university provides a $4,000 grant for a 10-week stint.

Pace University, New York, posted over 4,000 internships last year, about 40% of them unpaid, and provides grants for many internships in the nonprofit sector. “We’re not trying to proselytise with these students, but we’d like their eyes to be open to the second and third sectors in our economy,” said Rebecca Tekula of Pace’s Wilson Centre for Social Entrepreneurship. The centre pairs students with nonprofits in and around NYC.

Macalester College in Minnesota, too, subsidises internships involving social missions, like helping integrate tuberculosis services into Georgia’s health system and fighting transgender discrimination. Last year, about 50 interns took part.

“This is an opportunity to try on a career no matter what their interest or major or their economic situation is,” said Mindy Deardurff, dean of career development at the St Paul campus.

Amherst College distributed $1 million this past summer, 40% more than it did the previous year, helping 229 students take unpaid internships with nonprofits and small start-ups. The money came from alumni gifts and $200,000 from the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, which supports low-income college students.

Over the past five years, alumni and parents have donated $4 million to Colgate University, enabling it to support some 200 students each year take unpaid or low-paid internships, typically with nonprofits, the creative arts or to do research.

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