University News

U. to fund unpaid summer internships

Initiative is part of Obama administration efforts to make higher education more accessible

Senior Staff Writer
Thursday, January 23, 2014

The University will commit to funding at least one internship or research opportunity for students receiving financial aid as part of an effort to increase the accessibility of summer opportunities, President Christina Paxson announced at a White House summit on higher education last week.

Dozens of leaders hailing from academia, business and the nonprofit sector convened at the summit to announce new and wide-ranging ways to help students from low-income backgrounds prepare for and succeed in higher education. Several other institutions and organizations made commitments despite being unable to attend the summit.

Private four-year institutions made up 57 percent of the 109 colleges and universities making commitment announcements, despite enrolling only 14 percent of American undergraduates, the Chronicle of Higher Education reported.

The initiative Paxson announced seeks to ensure that the need to earn money during the summer does not block students who receive financial aid from  conducting unpaid research or working as unpaid interns.

The University plans to begin implementing the initiative in the summer of 2014, according to a University press release. By the summer of 2018, the program is expected to provide funding to all eligible students.

Summer earnings requirements and the various costs of taking on an unpaid internship or research opportunity are extremely prohibitive, Paxson told The Herald. Missing out on these opportunities can deprive lower-income students of educational experiences and hurt their chances of building key skills and connections for later career opportunities.

“We don’t have a level playing field for aided and non-aided students in regards to summer opportunity,” she said.

The University will seek to equalize opportunities for low-income students by making a monetary commitment to expanding the funds available for the Linking Internship and Knowledge (LINK) and Undergraduate Teaching and Research Award (UTRA) programs, specifically for students on financial aid, Paxson said. Both of these programs are available to undergraduates pursuing low-paying or unfunded internships, regardless of financial aid status, but are not funded enough to serve all students who apply.

Additionally, more students will receive Summer Earnings Waivers under the program.

The plan was already “in the works” before the White House summit and is consistent both with the goals of the summit and with the goals laid out in the University’s strategic plan, which highlighted improving and expanding financial aid as a major priority, Paxson said.

Undergraduates identified financial aid as a top priority in an October poll conducted by the Undergraduate Council of Students, with 38.4 percent of respondents naming financial aid as their number one administrative priority and 61.7 percent listing it among their top three of 10 choices, The Herald reported at the time.

Alex Mechanick ’15, president of Brown for Financial Aid, called the internship funding commitment an “encouraging” departure from previous efforts by the University to help financial aid recipients: The initiative seeks to provide funding opportunities for all eligible students as opposed to announcing a specific dollar amount to be spent on aid, he said.

The program is part of a broader effort by the University, led by the CareerLAB and the Division of Advancement, to improve summer internship and research opportunities for all students, regardless of financial aid status, Paxson said. This push, which seeks to strengthen an alumni internship and career-advising network to expand the University’s connections to paid internships, was another component of the strategic plan.

By identifying greater numbers of paid internships and research opportunities, the University can reduce costs of funding unpaid opportunities and support a greater number of students, Paxson said.

Full details of the program’s logistics and costs are not yet available, Paxson said, though she anticipates the program could cost $500,000 this summer, increasing by about $500,000 more for each of the next two summers. These “rough estimates” are highly subject to change as logistics are determined and the arsenal of paid opportunities is expanded, she added.

“Already there’s a lot of enthusiasm among Brown alumni and parents for building support for this program,” she said.

While some students said they see the initiative as a positive move for low-income students, others continue to push the University to become more accessible to and supportive of lower-income students. Becoming completely need-blind in the admission process for international students is a particularly pressing issue, Mechanick said.

“I think the administration is moving in the right direction. I just hope they keep moving,” he added.

The White House summit came as part of the Obama administration’s national push to improve the accessibility of higher education, which has been an ongoing policy priority throughout President Obama’s tenure. In his remarks at the summit, Obama called the fact that the commitments were undertaken without Congressional action “extraordinary.”

Many of Brown’s peer institutions also announced new initiatives to bolster college accessibility at the White House, including Columbia, Harvard, Princeton, Penn, Yale and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Several of the schools’ commitments focus on increasing outreach and recruitment efforts for lower-income high school students, according to a White House document detailing each participating institution’s commitment. These efforts include sending admission officers to underserved communities, spreading awareness about financial aid and college affordability to students and offering summer opportunities targeted for students from low-income backgrounds.

Brown has existing programs focused on outreach to and college preparation for low-income students, Paxson said, and therefore did not include these as part of its White House announcement.

Cornell and Dartmouth were the only Ivy League schools that did not announce new initiatives.