Low waged business internships force UH students into ‘cycle of poverty’

David Delgado// The Daily Cougar

David Delgado// The Daily Cougar

Fresh out of the public education system, high school students are effectively hardwired with the notion that going to college is the key to achieving a dream job. Ask most college students, though, and they’ll tell you that what truly separates you from the rat race of post-grads is not your Dean’s List GPA or the fact that you double-majored.

It’s internships, typically unpaid ones, and many of today’s employers seem to be setting standards for their future work force that are unrealistic, especially when considering today’s economic conditions.

Gone are the days when a graduating senior could step into their Career Center and check out the “Now Hiring” corkboard. Without internships and field experience, getting hired is becoming an increasingly formidable task. Unfortunately, with the increasing costs of college, most students can’t afford to take unpaid internships or low-wage, high-hour jobs.

The Huffington Post reports the average cost of four-year public universities increased by 8.3 percent across the nation in 2012. Today’s economic climate simply can’t foster the luxury of an internship for the majority of college students.

With the rising costs of tuition and living, most college students aren’t in a position to accept a commitment that doesn’t help pay the bills. Sadly, the larger part of available jobs that provide high wages and flexible hours aren’t applicable to vast fields of study, as they typically fall into the retail, construction, warehouse or hospitality industries.

Students who finance their own education through these positions are left with a resumé that undoubtedly details their competitive work ethic and time management skills. However, as employers increasingly demand post-grads with a plethora of field experience, students fluent in work ethic and time management have become undesirable if they don’t also come equipped with a rudimentary knowledge of JavaScript or WordPress.

Faced with the rapidly evolving needs of the modern student, David B. Small, executive director of University Career Services, has made fundamental renovations in the way that Career Services approaches students’ professional needs. “Our Career Services is trying to reach students as early as possible in their academic careers,” Small said. “It’s changed from being a job placement agency, working primarily with seniors, to now looking at the complete developmental range of services for students.”

According to Small, 74 percent of UH students are employed during the academic year, well past the national collegiate average of 58 percent.

It’s not specified whether these students are employed in a field-specific internship or a full-time job waiting tables. One thing that is clear is that UH students are held to a higher degree of post-grad professionalism than students attending a university in a rural environment.

“Because UH students have the benefit of studying in a sprawling urban environment, many of Houston’s employers expect their applicants to have experience in the field, whether it be a part-time job or an internship,” Small said.

This catch-22 of attending a university in a booming city raises more concerns than one. While the abundance of internships is dramatically higher in Houston than in other Texas cities, so is the student demand for those.

What also separates Houston from other major cities across the nation is widening class distinctions, because of an increasing number of economic distinctions among its residents.

According to the Houston Chronicle, Houston’s average annual income among residents increased last year. There was also a slight increase in the number of Houstonians living in poverty.

“With a good deal of UH students having to shoulder their own education, many can’t afford to take an unpaid internship. They’re left with no choice but to keep their source of income alive, (and this pattern) leads to something of a class distinction,” Small said.

“Students that come from impoverished backgrounds (are not financially able to accept these) internships, and that continued cycle of poverty is something people need to be aware of.”

With a demand for the increasingly impractical becoming the norm of the hiring environment, an unstable post-grad future for hundreds of thousands of students seems progressively inevitable. Businesses that value the budgetary benefits of inflexible, low-wage internships are robbing a countless number of potentially dedicated employees of positions they’ve proven to be qualified for.

As long as businesses choose to demand the impractical, many students will be faced with few options beyond graduation.

Senior staff columnist Cara Smith is a communications junior and may be reached at [email protected]

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