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Unpaid internships growing due to economic downturn

BY MAGGIE PETERS | MARCH 26, 2009 7:40 AM

Although UI junior Brigette Fanning scored a summer internship with Rep. Dave Loebsack, D-Iowa, in Iowa City, she knows she will have to find another job, too.

Fanning’s internship is unpaid — meaning she will have to balance work along with a part-time job.
“I knew I wouldn’t be able to find a paid internship, so I didn’t even think of money as criteria when I was looking,” said Fanning, 20, a former DI reporter. “But I’ll need to make money, so I might go back to Quinton’s where I used to waitress.”

Kieran Leopold, the director of the Des Moines Center and experiential education at the UI, said there’s a growing number of unpaid internships due to the economic downturn.

“At a time like this there is a greater demand for interns because of the work they can do,” Leopold said. “But companies have less money in the budget to pay their interns.”

Leopold said internships are becoming increasingly important for future career opportunities, so students at the UI and across the nation are being forced to juggle making money and gaining beneficial experience.

In a 2007 study by Intern Bridge, a management and consulting company, 18 percent of 12,000 students surveyed said they were not paid for internships. Of those who received class credit, 71 percent had to pay to participate in their program.

And for some students, a full-time unpaid internship is not an option.

UI junior Nate Malmquist is searching for a summer internship — but only one that will pay him.
“It would be hard for me to take an unpaid internship over the summer because that’s when I make my spending money for the year,” the management information systems major said. “If I took one, I would have to look for a part-time job on campus during the school year.”

Malmquist, 20, said he would rather work during the summer so he could focus on his classwork while at school.

UI junior Caroline Smith said she had to take up a second job last summer because working part-time for ESPN Radio in Chicago didn’t pay anything.

“The internship was definitely a positive experience, overall,” Smith, 20, said. “But I had to baby-sit to make money on the days I wasn’t interning.”

The ability to take on an unpaid internship depends fully on the circumstances of the individual, Leopold said.

“Although internships provide great experience, I would never want a student to sacrifice their well-being to do one,” he said.

But when it comes down to finances, it’s much more difficult to obtain a paid internship due to an increase in competition and diminishing opportunities.

The National Association of Colleges and Employment said employers are cutting the number of student interns they hire by an average of nearly 21 percent this year, according to a recent statement. Nearly all of the companies studied employ paid interns and cited budget cuts as one of the main causes for slashing intern openings.


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