Edward Glaeser is a respected Harvard economist whose latest column I can only interpret as an attempt to taunt every cash-strapped twenty-something in the United States.
Glaeser is worried that a barrage of lawsuits is about to force companies to shut down their unpaid internship programs, just as Condè Nast did last week. This would be a great loss, he says, because recent college grads don't have the skills employers are looking for. At the same time, he acknowledges that requiring young adults to work for free in order to get basic career experience might give the rich an unfair advantage.
So he's come up with a fix: student loans for internships.
If you're a broke 23-year-old, the concept of taking out debt for an unpaid internship probably sounds something like the two-headed hell-hound of your financial nightmares. But here's the idea in Glaeser's own words.
Critics are right to worry that unpaid internships provide access only to students from wealthy families. One solution might be to expand federal student loan programs to cover students taking unpaid internships, whether or not they receive college credit for them, or even recent graduates. I would set a high bar for making internships eligible for such loans, by requiring official certification of their educational quality. With a loan program in place, more widespread unpaid internships could help move young Americans toward permanent employment. Internships provide a pathway towards employment that should be encouraged — not penalized.
I can sort of see how this line of thinking would develop. If you really, truly believe a dearth of skills, rather than a slow economy, is the problem hampering college graduates in today's job market, you might see internships as a tonic. After all, Germany and other European countries run very successful apprenticeship programs that prepare young adults for careers (though those apprenticeships are paid). And if you believe the only downside to unpaid internships are the class issues, then student loans might sound like an elegant solution. We are just talking about more education. What's so wrong with financing it?