Unpaid Internships

Dubuque, IA– The National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium is already festively fashioned in early November.
“We just started decorating for Christmas,” Emily Mast exclaims. Mast is one of the growing number of students with a paid internship.
“I would’ve done it even if I didn’t have work study money, because it’s a great opportunity to learn about things you can’t learn about in the classroom,” Emily explained.

Internship and Career Services Coordinator Faye Finnegan described the current internship payment perspective,
“I think we’re seeing fewer for-profit organizations having unpaid internships because there’s been a lot of controversy over the last three years.” As the economy declined, many for-profit companies moved away from paid internships, but they still found interns because students were willing to gain experience even if they didn’t earn money.

Chad Chandlee, President and COO at Kendall Hunt Publishing and Great River Technology, understands why some employers feel they do not need pay interns,
“For some internships, the value of $10 an hour is meaningless compared to the value they got out of the experience.”

However, pursuing an unpaid internship often presents a financial struggle, as Cottingham and Butler Producer, Nick Kohlhof depicts the dilemma,
“Do I want to go here where I can make money for a summer? Or do I go here where I am not going to get paid but that’s going to further me?”

Although unpaid internships are common, they aren’t always legal. The Fair Labor Standards Act requires for-profit organizations to pay interns who “qualify as employees rather than trainees.” Non-profits are not required to pay interns. There are some cases where for-profits don’t have to pay, but they must meet specific criteria about the internship environment and the work the intern is doing. The six criteria, published by the US Department of Labor, include:

1. The internship, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to training which would be given in an educational environment;
2. The internship experience is for the benefit of the intern;
3. The intern does not displace regular employees, but works under close supervision of existing staff;
4. The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern; and on occasion its operations may actually be impeded;
5. The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship; and
6. The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship.

Finnegan struggles with for-profit organizations not paying interns because she sees the valuable work the interns are producing for those organizations,
“While I understand the non-paid for non-profits… I don’t understand if there is an organization that is for-profit that’s not paying.”

Although Cottingham and Butler’s internship program does pay, Kohlhof comprehends why unpaid internships are still prevalent,
“It’s kind of a supply and demand thing—-if there’s an internship someone really wants, and that’s the only way they can break into that industry, and for them to do that it’s gotta be ‘I’ve got to put in my time as an unpaid intern,’ …it’s kind of the way the world works.”

Chandlee thought differently when deciding to pay his interns,
“I felt like if they were doing real work, than they should be getting real pay.”

Whether paid or unpaid, many students agree that internships pay off in the end.

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