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Paid Internships Offer Real Experience, Says LIM College President


Earlier this month, LIM College said it will be phasing in a new policy over the next three years that will require all of its students to be “compensated for internships and cooperative [co-op] work experiences at minimum wage or above.”

The policy will begin to take effect this fall. Ron Marshall, LIM College president, said in a statement that internships and co-op experiences “are vital components of a comprehensive education, offering students real-world experiences, the ability to develop professional skills, and the opportunity to build valuable networks within their chosen fields.”

Here, Marshall goes deeper into the reason for the policy and the critical role internships play in a student’s education.

WWD: What was the impetus behind this policy change?

Ron Marshall: LIM College seeks to be at the forefront of change in the fashion industry and higher education with respect to addressing inequity. This is a time of change and transition within the industry in many respects, and therefore it is the right moment to address inequalities and help close gaps that have existed for decades.

Internships and co-op experiences are vital components of a comprehensive education, offering students real-world experience, the ability to develop professional skills, and the opportunity to build valuable networks within their chosen fields.

Unpaid internships can create significant barriers for many students, particularly those from underrepresented, first-generation and low-income backgrounds. By ensuring that all internships and co-op experiences are compensated, we are addressing these barriers and fostering a more inclusive and supportive learning environment. 

The advantages to students include equitable access to career-building opportunities, financial support and professional development. Compensated internships help students gain real-world experience, develop professional skills and build valuable networks, reducing the chances of underemployment after graduation. 

There is a groundswell of support for this type of change at the state level and the national level from organizations such as NACE [National Association of Colleges and Employers] that is helping increase overall pressure to make change a reality. LIM College is looking to help lead this change.

WWD: Why is compensation important?

R.M.: Unpaid internships can create significant barriers for many students, particularly those from underrepresented, first-generation and low-income backgrounds. By ensuring that all internships and co-op experiences are compensated, we are addressing these barriers and fostering a more inclusive and supportive learning environment. 

Internships are pivotal for college students’ professional development and future career success. However, students from historically underrepresented backgrounds often face barriers in accessing these opportunities. With the vast majority of employers favoring internships as a recruiting method, practical experience is increasingly essential.

Many of those coveted internship experiences lock out students from low-income backgrounds because they are unpaid or offer small stipends and require students to cover the cost of transportation, food and housing.

Paid internships and accessible pathways are vital to reducing underemployment and preparing students to advance the fashion and lifestyle industry through a diverse workforce. The LIM College Paid Internship Initiative supports this. 

WWD: What role do internships and co-op experiences play in a student’s education?

R.M.: Internships and co-op experiences are vital components of a comprehensive education, offering students real-world experience, the ability to develop professional skills and the opportunity to build valuable networks within their chosen fields.

These experiences are so important that LIM College requires students to complete them to graduate.

Students in our four-year bachelor’s degree programs are required to complete three internships for academic credit over the course of their program, including an immersive full-semester co-op that is meant to simulate a professional entry-level work experience.

During their final semester, all master’s degree students complete a three-credit, 21-hour per week internship (which includes an in-class component) or take an advanced management course.

WWD: How do businesses benefit from participating in paid internships and co-op programs?

R.M.: The fashion industry, like others, is constantly looking for the best and the brightest talent and the best ways to identify this talent among the next generation. Internships and co-op experiences are a preferred way to find talent to fill professional roles.

This policy can help expand talent pipelines from college to business, and ultimately increase diversity in the fashion industry. Offering unpaid internships favors students with the financial means to support themselves, or who receive financial support from their families while being an unpaid intern.

Ron Marshall

This shuts out a wide swath of exceptionally talented students from key opportunities to get experience and make connections that can advance their careers. Transitioning to paid internships provides more equitable access to the industry to all students, opening doors to students with a wider range of socioeconomic backgrounds and perspectives who can help drive innovation within organizations.

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