The Conversation publishes op-ed by UW–Madison’s Hora, Thompson

UW–Madison’s Matthew Hora and Mindi Thompson wrote an op-ed that was published in The Conversation and is headlined, “COVID-19 shows why it’s finally time to end unpaid internships.”

Matthew Hora and Mindi Thompson
Hora (left) and Thompson

Hora is the director of UW–Madison’s Center for Research on College-Workforce Transitions (CCWT), which is housed within the School of Education’s Wisconsin Center for Education Research. He also serves as an assistant professor of adult and higher education. Thompson is a professor in the School of Education’s Department of Counseling Psychology, and is the director of the Work and Wellness Lab.

While Hora and Thompson recognize that internships offer college students’ valuable opportunities to acquire new skills and develop their networks, they argue that there are serious problems with asking students to work for free.

And, they write, “The value of unpaid internships is even more questionable due to the economic challenges associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.”

“Besides the legal and ethical questions of not paying people for their work, unpaid internships also favor students from affluent families,” Hora and Thompson explain. “The reason is that they can afford to forgo a paycheck and the high cost of living in big cities such as New York and Washington, D.C., where many internships are located.”

The authors note as well that unpaid internships tend to be concentrated in specific fields — such as political science, journalism, and human development — and a majority of unpaid interns (76 percent) are women.

Hora and Thompson propose a number of ways to make paid internships more plentiful. Their recommendations include:

  • Ban unpaid internships in the federal government;
  • Create tax breaks and grants for employers that hire student interns; and
  • Fund paid internships at nonprofits.

Learn more about this issue at, here.