Few things are more coveted at Georgetown than a prestigious internship. Landing one has been universally accepted as the best way to secure a paying job after college. Unfortunately, students on the Hilltop find themselves constrained in the internship search by the University’s burdensome requirements for internship accreditation, along with employers’ growing preference for unpaid interns. Getting employers to fairly compensate interns will require action by the Federal government, but more immediately, Georgetown should reform its accreditation process and stop funneling students into menial, unpaid positions.
Georgetown’s current policy requires students seeking credit for their internships to enlist a faculty sponsor or enroll in one of several offered internship classes. Since many employers require students to receive academic credit to be eligible for consideration, the University’s policy can make it harder for students to even qualify for their desired internship. The policy also forces students to cram another class into their already busy schedules, and part-time students have to pay for the extra credit hours.
It would be far more effective for the University to dedicate its resources to reviewing the internships regularly offered in the District. This way the University could decide whether or not to grant credit based on the merits of the position, and the Career Center could slim down the internship lists it provides to undergraduates, removing those that offer no pay and no valuable experience.
A good place for the Career Center to start would be eliminating the unpaid internships that are, in fact, illegal. Under federal law, for-profit companies can hire an intern without pay only when that intern’s experience is “similar to what would be given in a vocational school or academic educational instruction” and provides “no immediate advantage” to the employer. Few for-profit companies heed these requirements, and many students end up working for months performing mundane tasks while learning absolutely nothing. By taking such positions off employment lists the Career Center can help steer students towards more worthwhile opportunities.
In addition, unpaid internships unfairly benefit more affluent students, who can afford to work a summer or semester without pay. That was one reason why the Obama administration’s Labor Department signaled at this time last year that it would begin cracking down on offending employers. Regrettably, since then, little has been done. The Labor Department should return to this issue: it is the one entity that could force employers to treat their interns fairly.
Georgetown offers students better access to internships than most other universities in the country. Yet unless the University strips away its burdensome accreditation requirements and begins working with the Labor Department to evaluate employers’ internship policies, students will increasingly find themselves working in a state of quasi-legal servitude and paying the University to do it.