McWilliams: Employers should be required to pay their interns

Leta McWilliams

Editor’s Note: All opinion section content reflects the views of the individual author only and does not represent a stance taken by The Collegian or its editorial board.

All across the nation, college students are required to get internships in order to graduate. Even here at Colorado State University, many degree programs require students to receive intern experience. In theory, this is a great idea because it allows students to gain experience in the field they’re going into.

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But many internships offered to college students aren’t paid, so a lot of students aren’t able to receive the experience needed from internships because of financial reasons. Internships are a great experience, and students shouldn’t have to sacrifice it. Employers offering internships should be required to pay their interns.

Going to college is a huge financial commitment. Along with paying for school, many students are also paying for housing, groceries and other basic necessities for the first time. Savings quickly disappear, and sooner or later students start applying for jobs. Many undergraduates work alongside going to school. In 2011, 71 percent of college students had jobs according to a U.S. Census Report.

At CSU, students generally take anywhere between 12 to 18 credit hours a semester, with the expectation that each credit hour will require around two to three hours of work outside of class. On average, this means being a student requires around 37 hours dedicated to classes a week, which is basically a full-time job. Having a job on top of being a full-time student is difficult enough without having a required internship.

Having a job on top of being a full-time student is difficult enough without having a required internship.

Employers should be required to pay college interns minimum wage. According to the Denver Post, the laws surrounding unpaid internships are often unclear. Some employers aren’t sure of the guidelines, and others “walk a fine line between following them and abusing them.” By not paying their interns, employers are participating in a common day form of slave labor.

Some would argue that there is nothing wrong with unpaid internships and they should be treated as another college class since they’re often a requirement for college students. But his idea makes people complacent. 

Amalia Arguello, a graduate of the University of Colorado at Boulder, told the Denver Post that she wasn’t as invested in the work she was doing.

“If they were asking me to go above and beyond, I’d think that they shouldn’t be asking this of me, because I’m not getting paid.” 

It’s also difficult to treat unpaid internships with the same regard as a college course. From my experience, my internship requirement is only one credit. Compared to everything else, it’s such a small requirement on my graduation check sheet, but it’s one of the largest commitments to graduate. 

Unpaid internships force students to choose between a job and a necessary experience. By not paying minimum wage, only financially secure students can afford these experiences while the students who need them the most are at a disadvantage. It perpetuates the unfair philosophy that the rich get richer, and the poor stay poor. Low-income students are once again being left behind.

Students shouldn’t be forced to choose between the experience they need for the future and financial security. In order for everyone to have an equal opportunity at success, employers should be forced to pay their interns so students don’t have to choose between their present and their future.

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Leta McWilliams can be reached at letters@collegian and online at @LetaMcWilliams.