iStock_000051024154SmallWe are increasingly wasting the potential of a huge portion of our population. Higher Education has increased exponentially in its importance, but nations have not done enough to make it easily accessible by their populations. Currently, the costs of education can overwhelm ambitious youth, and potential future leaders, causing them to lose sight of their goals. The impediments to education manifest themselves by the high cost of college, the cost of pursuing internships, and dismal economic prospects for young people.  This high cost is often compounded by high unemployment and underemployment as seen in the US which has rates of 14.3% and 44% to go with an average student loan debt load of $33,000. These students pursued a higher education in the hopes of establishing fruitful careers and making a positive impact on the world. To waste these desires is disastrous to the future of the US.

It is not just the high costs of education that are impeding many young people. In today’s society, college students need to gain an increasing amount of work experience from internships. Yet, internships are costly and usually do not offer pay, travel or meal compensation, or any benefits. In the US, internship credit costs as much as the tuition of a college course ranging $1000 per credit while students seeking work experience abroad can expect to pay around $6,500 just in fees. This situation effectively excludes students who need to work to finance their education or to support themselves. This exclusion dampens their job prospects and can lead them into jobs that offer lower pay, are not their desired fields, and impede their economic mobility. If one of the goals of the US government is to empower youth as positive economic and political actors[1], then we must ensure that they are able to access affordable education, are supported when they pursue valuable experiences through internships, and are set up to succeed in the workforce.

The US should increase efforts to make internships affordable for all. Instead of mandating that internships either offer college credit or pay, which often leads to unpaid credit-only internships, there needs to be a way to decrease the cost of an internship and ensure that students are afforded either pay or travel compensation and some benefits.  If institutions for higher education would defer the credit hour costs for the internship class, or the place of business where the interning is taking place would cover the credit hours for that internship, this would help to reduce the student debt.

One possible solution to easing the expense of transportation can be seen in Leon County’s partnership with Star Metro which offers free public bus service throughout the city of Tallahassee to students with valid photo IDs. Also, there should be stricter limits on what schools can charge for internship credit and a greater push to set up more need based funds for students to pursue these opportunities. More programs that focus on training new graduates should also be established that are beneficial to new graduates (i.e. mentorship programs, workforce training, career fairs, affordable cross-cultural work-study exchange programs, and inner-city outreach are just a few possibilities).

It may not be clear where the money will come from to fund affordable internship experience in the US, but there must be a more urgent dialogue on the issue. It is imperative that we make opportunities accessible to the next generation now so they may have a future in the workforce.

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