May 17, 2011

Removing the cap

CAPS should build on Metcalf Fellows success and increase funding for internships

As Spring quarter winds down, U of C students from every department and major are finalizing their summer plans and setting up internships and sublets. For those students with summer jobs, no matter where they’re working, CAPS has more than likely played a positive role–whether it be through practice interviews, one-on-one advising, or the grants and fellowships they award. The Jeff Metcalf Fellows Program, for instance, has grown over the past fifteen years from a budding funding source for eight fellowships to an integral part of CAPS with almost 250 internships. Just last year, the Chicago Careers in Journalism (CCIJ) Grant bumped funding from $3,000 to $4,000 and offered a wider range of opportunities after an increase in student interest. These opportunities provide students with a leg-up when applying to jobs upon graduation and also allow them to explore experiences outside of the classroom. To help meet student demand, CAPS should further expand the summer grants and fellowships they offer and reevaluate their funding and requirements.

Although the awards CAPS offers are highly regarded, they hardly pay more than a minimum wage job. Currently, Metcalf Fellowships offer $4,000 a summer and require 400 hours of work in addition to writing a reflection and participating in CAPS events. Students commuting to their internship, working overseas or in a high-cost city are lucky to simply break even after paying for housing, food, transportation, and other living costs over the summer. This gives students receiving financial aid bigger issues, since the University assumes they save $2,000 over the summer that can be contributed towards their education. A college student with only a couple months to prepare for living in a new city–while balancing schoolwork and other commitments–can easily run into a number of burdens on the way, including finding a sublet on such short notice. Also, one of the greatest opportunities of a Metcalf Fellowship is exploring a new city and different cultures. Increasing the money included in CAPS’ grants and fellowships by just $500 or $1,000 would go a long way with helping students get the most out of their summers without reaching into their savings.

There should also be more specialized opportunities geared towards students with particular interests. While programs like the CCIJ Grants and the Environmental Studies Internship Program offer a guided source of funding to learn and work in a specific field, students who have other pursuits are left behind. Programs like Chicago Careers in Law and Business are structured to help students gain perspective in a professional field, and would greatly benefit from offering more paid summer opportunities that will help engage students.

Although increasing the amount of summer grants and fellowships offered by the University is a significant cost, it’s one of the best investments the College can make. In a time where finding a job can be extremely difficult and the bulk of unemployment falls on recent graduates, having work experience in a field specific to a student’s interest can give them the edge over graduates from other universities. The steady growth of these programs is a testament to their success, and they should be further expanded and reevaluated to help maximize students’ summer experiences.

The Editorial Board consists of the Editor-in-Chief, Viewpoints Editors, and an additional editorial board member.