The issue of affordability of higher education in the United States has been at the forefront of National Attention for several decades now, and as tuition prices and the national student loan debt continue to climb, even those in the upper-middle class are beginning to feel the strain of financing a college education, which has grown to be a necessity in many professional fields.

While tuition prices are at the surface of the crisis, there are many other less acknowledged factors that drive economic disadvantage and favor those more well-off in American higher education. Off all these factors, perhaps the worst is the concept of unpaid internships.

Any college student who has spoken to an adult in their field of interest has most likely heeded the warnings of what can happen to undergrads who complete school with a diploma, but no work experience to show for it. 

The internship is believed to be a critical part of entering any professional field, from medicine to journalism, and the dominant belief is that this valuable experience is all the pay any student should receive for their time. This viewpoint drives economic oppression and disadvantage amongst students hoping to gain experience.

Unpaid internships can be a hindrance in several ways, but the most apparent is financially. For college students who don’t come from complete financial stability, the summer is seen as a time to earn the money necessary not just to maintain a healthy lifestyle, but in some cases ensure there will be a place to live over the next academic year. 

Simultaneously, many academic leaders will remind students the summer is the time necessary to gain the experience that will land them a job following graduation. The pressure can go far enough to give undergrads the idea their degree will appear essentially useless to employers if there is no internship experience accompanying it.

The concept of living in a large city for several months at a time with no compensation is not just daunting, but completely impossible for a large numbers of students. This very concept serves to give economically privileged undergrads a much higher likelihood of landing well-paying jobs following graduation. It's the exact sort of institution that serves to keep the rich at the top and hinder upward mobility for the less fortunate.

The idea of working in exchange for experience has no place in a society that already regularly requires crippling debt to gain an education. Time away from school should be an opportunity to ease the financial burden while gaining the critical experience needed to enter the job market, not a time for young adults to suffer through unpaid full-time labor, often away from home.

Fortunately, the tide does seem to be shifting. A 2017 survey found that of graduating students who participated in an internship, 57 percent were compensated, up from 51 percent in 2011. However, 57 percent is far from acceptable. There is no room for unpaid labor in modern America and the unpaid internship is an outdated institution that serves the interests of the wealthy and obstructs the goals of young Americans. 

Noah Wright is an undecided sophomore studying at Ohio University. Please note that the views and opinions of the columnists do not reflect those of The Post. Want to talk to Noah? Tweet him @NoahCampaign.

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