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Internship Opportunities Scarce

By CityTownInfo.com Staff
August 10, 2009

The number of internship opportunities for college students has dropped significantly, many that remain are unpaid, and competition for available slots is fierce.

The Florida Sun Sentinel reports that according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, internships have decreased by 21 percent since last year--the result of many companies trimming costs. Many of the remaining internships offer no wages.

"We used to pay, but we're not doing that anymore," said Tom Triozzi, senior vice president of BellAtlantic, which stopped paying interns when economic woes began in 2008. "We ask them to work for free for a great work experience."

Not all students can afford it. "If a student is in a hardship situation," explained Christine Childers, director of Career Development at Florida's Lynn University, "payment can make a difference between whether they can intern or not."

Nevertheless, she noted, securing an internship is crucial to landing a job later on. "Whatever it takes," Childers said, "it's important that students do it."

The belief that internships are the surest route to a job has resonated deeply among students; so much so that some new college graduates are paying thousands of dollars to land unpaid internships. The New York Times reports that the University of Dreams, which advertises a $7,999 program guaranteeing internship placement, received over 9,000 applications this year--30 percent higher than in 2008.

"Students don't have problems finding internships, students have problems getting internships," explained Eric Normington, the company's chief marketing officer, who was quoted in the Times. "We can secure those exclusive positions."

Still, says David Gaston, director of the University of Kansas career center, paying for unpaid internships is "kind of crazy. The demand for internships in the past 5, 10 years has opened up this huge market."

Not all the news is bad, however. The Sun Sentinel notes that some companies, such as Target, have kept their paid internship programs running, believing that such programs ultimately assist with recruiting.

"We get a lot of great talent," noted Victor Rota, group campus recruiter for Target. "Seventy to eighty percent of them come back to work for us, so the return on the investment is there."

Moreover, according to NACE, companies that offer paid internships are increasing the hourly wage by 5 percent, moving the national average to $17.13 per hour. Carolyn Wise, senior education editor for Vault, Inc., which publishes The Vault Guide to Top Internships, noted that the change is a significant bright spot for students.

"That reflects an understanding," she said, "that interns may need more money than they did before."

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