Who's Giving Grants to Campuses to Expand Internship Opportunities for Students?

When it comes to college and career readiness, many funders focus their attention—and their dollars—on the college part of the equation, with less attention to the career side. A top higher ed funder in the Midwest, however, continues to stand out as an exception. Recognizing that entering college and graduating are not enough, Great Lakes Higher Education Corporation and Affiliates has committed millions to help more college students graduate with the skills and experience that will give them in edge in the race for jobs.

Internships are one of the most valuable avenues by which college students acquire practical job experience while in school. Unfortunately, many internships are unpaid. This places low-income and first-generation students, who often must balance studies and paying jobs to support themselves while in school, at a disadvantage compared to their wealthier peers. As a result, disadvantaged students often miss out on the professional skills and networking that come with internships.

We've written quite a bit about this opportunity gap and the sliver of funders that are working to address it. Such efforts reflect a broader realization among many involved in higher education that students need far more assistance to chart clear pathways into the work world before they graduate—especially students without a lot of social capital. As far as we can see, though, no philanthropic player has given more attention to leveling the internship playing field than Great Lakes. Since 2013, it  has provided funds to create paid internships so that students with financial need can access the benefits of internships. Now comes the news that the funder has given $2.1 million to 16 community colleges, with the goal of creating 1,000 paid internships between the spring 2017 and spring 2018 semesters.

Colleges in Arkansas, Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Ohio and North Dakota received the grant funds, which will cover internship wages and other expenses as the grantees are partnered with employees. Funding will also help the schools recruit students and match them with internships that align with their fields of study.

Great Lakes' quest to improve internship opportunities for students began with a pilot program in 2013, which grew into a $5.2 million to colleges in four upper Midwest states, with the goal of creating 2,000 paid internships. That program benefited many four-year colleges and universities. This new grant will focus on the needs of community colleges, who often attract larger numbers of students with financial need.

The schools selected were chosen because they offered sound plans for recruiting students and promoting the internship program to area companies and nonprofits, for supporting students in the program, and for organizing the program on campus to ensure efficient administration.

To assess the outcomes of its internship funding efforts over the years, Great Lakes has been working with policy research firm MDRC to conduct a full evaluation of the programs, examining such issues as student persistence and retention, student-employer relationships, and the scalability and sustainability of these internship programs. We look forward to learning more about the effectiveness of this important effort to put internships in reach of more students.