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Sukin ’16: Summer support in the strategic plan

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Opinions Columnist

For those of you who haven’t read President Christina Paxson’s strategic plan, you may not yet know about the new emphasis on summer support for undergraduates. This hidden gem is a policy designed to extend educational opportunities for students on financial aid beyond the months of September through May. Not only would it allow students on financial aid the support and flexibility to gain internship experience, but it would also allow students to participate in educational programs over the summers. This clause is a positive note in the plan.

Financial aid is already available for students on campus as well as for students on study-abroad programs, and on-campus financial aid covers more than just classes. Adding summer support might be a cost for the University, but it isn’t a completely unprecedented one. It also isn’t the only step toward increasing financial aid outlined in the plan. The strategic plan includes a nonbinding initiative to work towards expanding need-blind admission policies to include international, transfer and Resumed Undergraduate Education students.

What exactly does the clause say? It states the intention of the University to “provide access to additional support for aided students so that they have the capacity to pursue educational or career-oriented opportunities for at least one summer during their time at Brown.” The inclusion of “at least one summer” indicates a commitment to the program — it may start out small, but there is a possibility that it could expand in future years to provide support for several of a student’s summers while attending Brown.

The University plans to focus not just on internships, but also on educational opportunities that could include summer classes at Brown or other institutions. But the real focus seems to be on job training. In addition to an expansion for Undergraduate Teaching and Research Awards, which provide summer research opportunities for students, a key element in implementing this plan will be “financial support to enable aided students to accept paid and unpaid internships.”

It is interesting that the University would include both paid and unpaid internships. Two-thirds of internships are unpaid, according to a Forbes article about internships. In addition, only 23 percent offer stipends for travel, and only 13 percent offer stipends for food. Students are becoming accustomed to this reality, and in 2012, 72 percent of students reported seeing compensation as the least important factor in seeking an internship.

Many paid internships provide insufficient funding for transportation, housing and living expenses during the summer. Perhaps Brown would supplement these minimal wages and help students make ends meet. In a way, this is a criticism of the internship system. If even paid internships do not provide enough income for students to live on their own without financial support, then this is symptomatic of an internship system that dramatically privileges wealthier students. In addition, many internship opportunities are entirely unpaid — a fact that makes them difficult to seek for students who can’t pay their own way. Another condition adding to the bias is that only 47 percent of internships are structured programs, which can make it harder for some students to find work opportunities.

The importance of internships belies the benefit of this clause. Internships offer opportunities to test out careers, chances to make connections and network with professionals in their fields and the possibility of finding outside mentors. Education is more than just classroom learning. Students can learn a lot from working that can’t necessarily be taught in a classroom, such as the culture and internal rules of certain companies and industries. Jobs also offer a different skill set than classes. This varies depending on the field, but for many areas, there is somewhat of a disconnect between formal education and working that internship experience can help correct.

One of the ultimate goals for education is employment, and this premise would suggest that internships, as a key avenue for future full-time jobs, are a beneficial supplement to traditional education. Sixty-nine percent of companies with greater than 100 employees offered their interns full-time jobs in 2012, and 39 percent of small companies did the same, according to the Forbes article. This is especially significant at a time when post-college unemployment rates are high. The nearly 70 percent chance students have of being hired by companies they have interned with can be a huge benefit.

Another reason why Paxson’s initiative is a benefit is that students who complete college without internships are in the minority. Sixty-three percent of college graduates in 2012 had held one or more internships before graduating.  This means that Brown students who never hold internships are, in a way, behind when they graduate, which is a disadvantage both to students and the University.

Paxson’s plan recognizes the new reality in which internships are increasingly important to securing future jobs. With this new clause, Brown is supporting its students’ educations in a more robust manner and allowing them the opportunities to engage with their careers and fields through internships and summer education programs. If it is well-executed, this change will be one for the better.

 

Lauren Sukin ’16 is a sophomore concentrating in political science and literary arts. 

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