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  • The Class of 2023: Inequity Continues to Underpin Internship Participation and Pay Status

    August 07, 2023 | By Mary Gatta

    A group of students work on computers.

    TAGS: graduate outcomes, internships, student attitudes, surveys, nace insights

    Each year, NACE surveys students to identify trends, attitudes, and behaviors, and to examine how those behaviors correlate to outcomes. Internships and their role in career preparation and outcomes has been and continues to be a key area of inquiry.

    Here we examine some important findings from NACE’s 2023 Student Survey that relate specifically to internships and bachelor’s degree-level graduating seniors.

    Class of 2023 graduating seniors were actively engaged in experiential learning, with 79% reporting they participated in some form of experience during their time at college. Internships accounted for a significant portion of those experiences: Overall, more than half of Class of 2023 graduating seniors (62%) reported taking part in an internship at some point in their college career. Of graduating seniors who participated in internships, most were paid (59%).

    Internships and Systemic Inequality

    Unfortunately, the data also point to systemic inequality in who takes part in internships and who is most likely to get a paid internship—ongoing issues that NACE began tracking with the Class of 2019.

    Similar to previous classes, among Class of 2023 graduates, male students, white students, students who are not first generation, and students who are not Pell Grant recipients were more likely to participate in internships than other groups of students. (See Table 1.)

    In terms of who gets paid internships, the same inequities persist. (See Table 2.)

    • Among men who took part in an internship, 76.4% were paid; among women taking part in internships, 51.5% were paid.
    • Of Pell Grant recipients, 53.5% were paid, compared to 61.0% of non-Pell Grant recipients.
    • Graduating seniors who identified as LGBTQ+ and took part in internships were less likely to be paid than their counterparts: 53% versus 59%.
    • The inequity repeats among first-generation interns, with 54% reporting paid internships compared to 60% of continuing generation interns.

    Table 1: Class of 2023 Internship Participation

      Percent Who Had an Internship Percent Who Did Not Have an Internship N
    All Students 61.5% 38.5% 2,124
    Men 64.8% 44.2% 514
    Women 61.8% 38.2% 1,309
    Asian 54.9% 45.1% 164
    Black 62.7% 37.3% 134
    Hispanic 55.4% 44.6% 148
    White 64.1% 35.9% 1,259
    LGBTQ+ Status
    Identify as LGTBQ+ 56.5% 43.5% 306
    Do not Identify as LGBTQ+ 64.0% 36.0% 1,483
    Pell Grant Status
    Have a Pell Grant 56.6% 43.4% 769
    Do Not Have a Pell Grant 66.6% 33.4% 976
    First Generation Status
    First Generation 65.8% 34.2% 455
    Not First Generation 52.3% 47.7% 1,394
    Source: National Association of Colleges and Employers. 2023 Student Survey. Data are for bachelor’s degree-level graduating seniors.

    Table 2: Class of 2023 Internship Status by Pay

      Paid Unpaid N
    All Students 59.2% 40.8% 1,300
    Men 76.4% 23.6% 330
    Women 51.5% 48.5% 808
    Asian 74.2% 25.8% 89
    Black 50.6% 49.4% 83
    Hispanic 54.9% 45.1% 82
    White 58.1% 41.9% 806
    LGBTQ+ Status
    Identify as LGTBQ+ 53.2% 46.8% 171
    Do not Identify as LGBTQ+ 59.8% 40.2% 948
    Pell Grant Status
    Pell Grant Recipient 53.5% 46.5% 434
    Not a Pell Grant Recipient 61.0% 39.0% 649
    First Generation Status
    First Generation 53.8% 46.2% 236
    Not First Generation 59.9% 40.1% 915
    Source: National Association of Colleges and Employers. 2023 Student Survey. Data are for bachelor’s degree-level graduating seniors.

    Paid Internships Correlate to More Job Offers, Higher Salaries

    NACE research has consistently found that students who take part in paid internships receive more job offers and garner higher starting salaries than those who participate in unpaid internships. These trends hold true for the Class of 2023, with paid interns averaging 1.4 job offers and unpaid interns averaging 0.9.

    Not only do paid interns enjoy more job offers on average, but they are also offered higher starting pay. Among the survey’s graduating seniors who were paid interns, the median starting salary is $67,500 compared to unpaid interns, who reported earning a median starting salary of $45,000.

    These patterns continue to underscore NACE’s position that all internships must be paid as a matter of fairness and equity.

    Addressing Inequity: Steps for Career Services and Employers

    There is no quick fix to addressing the current inequities around internships, but career services professionals and employers can work toward eliminating the disparities.

    Career services professionals can:

    • Foster understanding of the importance of internships—particularly paid internships—among students, faculty, and administrators. NACE data can be used to show the correlation between paid internships and entry to the world of work.
    • Track use of services related to internships by students and employers to get a baseline on who is using those services and who is not to determine outreach needs.
    • Help employers using their internship programs to feed their full-time hiring needs understand the connection between their internship cohort and their organization’s goals for a diverse workforce.

    Employers can:

    • Audit the historical makeup of their internship cohorts to get a baseline.
    • Track internship applicants by various demographic parameters to identify where there is underrepresentation.
    • Review recruiting and hiring practices and processes to identify barriers that hinder diverse talent in engaging with the organization.

    NACE’s 2023 Student Survey was conducted from March 15, 2023, to May 19, 2023. Overall, 18,966 bachelor’s degree-level students took part; among these were 2,307 students who identified as graduating seniors. A report based on results from the survey will be available in the fall.

    Mary Gatta, Ph.D., is the director of research and public policy for NACE. She can be reached at