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When internships are the barrier

California’s State Capitol. More than two-thirds of internships in state governments are unpaid.

This newsletter is about the role of higher ed in society. Each week, we highlight how college is (or is not) working for citizens and communities. It goes out most Friday mornings — If someone forwarded this to you, you can sign up for your own copy here.

The Weekly Dispatch
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A newsletter about role of higher education in society — plus Open Campus developments. By Sara Hebel and Scott Smallwood

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Unequal access to unpaid work

Internships are often considered a rite of passage. They serve as key training grounds for careers and kickstart professional networks. But close to half of them are unpaid — and that puts them out of reach for students who need jobs with paychecks to keep up with their bills.

We partnered with The Associated Press to examine the impact of this unpaid work and the new scrutiny it’s receiving from colleges, state lawmakers, and the White House — which is paying its interns for the first time this fall.

These opportunities tend to benefit students who are wealthier and white, our Naomi Harris and the AP’s Jocelyn Gecker reported. Nearly three out of four unpaid interns in 2020-21 were white, according to a study by the National Association of Colleges and Employers. All of this perpetuates wealth gaps.

Students are leading calls for change, including in how this whole rite of passage is viewed.

“We really need to retire this attitude of, ‘It was hard for me so it’s going to be hard for you,’” said Shannon Swanson, a former unpaid intern in the California State Capitol.

Unpaid internships can be found across industries. In state governments and at nonprofit organizations, more than two-thirds of internships are unpaid, according to NACE.

Swanson, now 23, saw firsthand the disparities that unpaid internships create. She was able to work up to 40 hours a week, well beyond the 15 hours expected of most interns, thanks to paid campus jobs with flexible hours and financial help from her parents.

Some of her peers, though, couldn’t afford to put in the extra hours at the Capitol. They had to take separate, paid, full-time jobs to get by. And the time paid off for Swanson: After she graduated from Sacramento State University, she was hired as a legislative aide in the same office where she interned.

Read Naomi’s and Jocelyn’s story.

— Sara Hebel

In Cleveland, meet our new partner

For two years, we’ve been working with Amy Morona to help her cover colleges in Northeast Ohio through a partnership with Crain’s Cleveland Business. She’s written about:

When she joined us in 2020 she was just the second reporter in our fledging local network. (We’re up to nine places and trying to get to 12 soon.) So we’re thrilled to announce that, with support from the Joyce Foundation and the American Journalism Project, we’ll continue our work with Amy — now at an innovative, new nonprofit start-up: Signal Cleveland.

Launching this fall, Signal Cleveland is the first in a planned network of independent, nonprofit newsrooms being created by the Ohio Local News Initiative. The initiative is a coalition of multiple foundations and the American Journalism Project.

With this partnership, we’re especially excited to be part of a new approach to community journalism. Here’s how Lila Mills, the editor-in-chief, explains what makes this new outlet different:

Cleveland Documenters — Greater Clevelanders trained and paid $16 an hour to take notes or live tweet local public meetings — are at the heart of Signal Cleveland. Anyone can sign up. About 600 Greater Clevelanders already have. There is a Documenter living in every residential ZIP code in Cleveland and almost every ZIP code in Cuyahoga County. Together Cleveland Documenters are building a new public record and democratizing the practice of journalism.

See this Twitter thread highlighting the work Documenters have done tracking every public comment since Cleveland City Council allowed such comments (amazingly for the first time in 90 years).

Our goal is to help Amy continue her excellent work and build another layer of journalism to complement the work of the Documenters.

First, though, we asked her to reflect a bit on covering the beat for the past two years:

What’s struck me on a more personal level is how being on this beat continues to make me reexamine my own higher education journey. I was the first person in my family to go to college. During all of the conversations I’ve had with so many students and others in Northeast Ohio, I regularly think about how the choices I made when I enrolled at a regional public university years ago still shape me, my family, and my communities. It’s formed a big part of the lens through which I view my reporting and writing.

Got more ideas for us in Cleveland? Please get in touch. Email me here or grab one of the slots in my weekly calendar to chat about all things Cleveland.

—Scott Smallwood

Elsewhere on Open Campus

Photos by Stephanie Strasburg/PublicSource

In Pittsburgh, Emma Folts and Mila Sanina published the first stories in a new PublicSource series “The Red Zone.” More than half of sexual assaults among college students occur in the fall. The series offers resources and examines what’s being done to protect those at risk in the Pittsburgh area.

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