Paying thousands to find unpaid internships

The Takeaway

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This article was originally reported by PRI's The Takeaway. For more, listen to the audio above.

A college degree from 4-year institution simply isn't enough for many people to get a job in today's economy. "On any college campus, the buzzword is internships," Jenna Johnson, a reporter for the Washington Post, told PRI's The Takeaway." You're not going to get a job out of college, unless you have an internship. You have to have experience."

Companies are cashing in on that need, charging college students upwards of $7,000 to find a guaranteed, though unpaid, internship.

Every year, an estimated 20,000 to 40,000 students arrive in Washington DC for internships. Some 2,500 come to the city through internship placement programs, Johnson reports. The thousands of dollars that the students pay to the placement program provides them with housing, six to nine hours of college credit and the support of a program in Washington DC. Since college credit is offered, many of the fees are paid through federal Pell grants and student loans.

"I feel like I've got these resources I've gained from being in DC," Farah Ardeshir, a junior at Eastern Kentucky University, told The Takeaway. Ardeshir paid about $9,000 to the Washington Center for Academic Seminars and Internships to get her an internship with a nonprofit, human rights organization in DC.

The Washington Center, the city's largest internship placement program, places about 1,500 interns annually, up from about 1,300 in 2007, Johnson reports: "The center had about $18 million in revenue last fiscal year and has a staff of 75, with at least eight employees making six-figure salaries. The president, Michael B. Smith, was paid more than $300,000 last year."

The organization has also come under scrutiny, according to Johnson, for its use of funds as a nonprofit. And it also been sued for allegedly neglecting to properly vet internship providers.

"I feel like I've got these resources I've gained from being in DC," Ardeshir told The Takeaway. Her experience was partly funded by her school and the state of Kentucky. If she hadn't had that support, she's doesn't think the internship would have been possible. But considering that she didn't pay for all of the internship out of pocket, she says, "I know that this DC experience will pay off, but you don't know until you get the job, right?"

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