Internships and the new corporate university

Posted: 3 April 2011 in Uncategorized
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Students are told they need to take an internship in order to land a job after graduation—and often pay for the privilege. Corporations offer them—often without pay. And colleges and universities have taken on the job of finding the appropriate students—and offering them course credit.

That’s the latest scam of the new corporate university.

Ross Perlin exposes the abuses of the system.

Colleges and universities have become cheerleaders and enablers of the unpaid internship boom, failing to inform young people of their rights or protect them from the miserly calculus of employers. In hundreds of interviews with interns over the past three years, I found dejected students resigned to working unpaid for summers, semesters and even entire academic years — and, increasingly, to paying for the privilege. . .

Charging students tuition to work in unpaid positions might be justifiable in some cases — if the college plays a central role in securing the internship and making it a substantive academic experience. But more often, internships are a cheap way for universities to provide credit — cheaper than paying for faculty members, classrooms and equipment. . .

To be sure, the unpaid internship is only part of a phenomenon that includes the growing numbers of temps, freelancers, adjuncts, self-employed “entrepreneurs” and other low-wage or precariously employed workers who live gig by gig. The academy should critique, not amplify, those trends.

While higher education has tried to stand for fairness in the past few decades through affirmative action and financial aid, the internship boom gives the well-to-do a foot in the door while consigning the less well-off to dead-end temporary jobs. Colleges have turned internships into a prerequisite for the professional world but have neither ensured equal access to these opportunities, nor insisted on fair wages for honest work.

Instead of providing a space for critical thinking about the brave new corporate world, colleges and universities are attempting to justify their high escalating tuition by cooperating with and operating like those corporations.

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