How Co-op Programs and Work Colleges Can Enhance the College Experience
How does a student learn best? Are colleges equipping students with the tools needed to make it in the workforce? How can colleges give students a more hands-on educational experience? Colleges and universities throughout history have been faced with the challenge of classroom innovation, and preparing students for a career beyond the classroom. One approach has been cooperative education.
In 1901, Herman Schneider, a professor at Leigh University, created a framework for cooperative education, or an educational system that combines a traditional classroom experience with real work experience. Since the launch of Schneider’s successful trial of a cooperative education at the University of Cincinnati in 1905, cooperative education programs and work colleges have opened across the country to meet the needs of technical students and provide many majors with direct experience in their fields.
Cooperative educations can be described with two different models. The first system has students alternate between a semester of school and a semester of work relating to their field of study. In this model, schools often partner with major corporations to link with students, and during a work period students can make money while they are in school to finance their educations and gain insight into future careers.
In the second system, students work and study each day, with work-based learning being incorporated into their curriculum. By participating in seminars and putting that new knowledge immediately to use in a work environment everyday, students are able to hone their skills and better understand classroom material.
Co-ops are an excellent option for students looking to gain applied work experience throughout their college careers. Proponents of cooperative education and work colleges believe this is the best way for students to connect their coursework with workplace skills, and to benefit from their education in an overt and explicit way. Based on this belief, cooperative learning will cultivate practical work skills, while challenging students to be self-motivated, contribute to a larger community, and use knowledge to make advances in various fields through first-hand experience.
From rural to urban, small to large, and with programs from urban farming to pre-law, schools with cooperative education programs are diverse and expansive.
Here are some of the country’s most noted co-op programs and work colleges:
Drexel University, Philadelphia, PA
Each year, 9,500 students travel away from this private, urban research institution to work around the world. Drexel University Co-op is one of the oldest and most expansive co-op programs in the country. Students are able to gain up to 18 months of work experience in a variety of fields, and the average co-op salary for a period of 6 months is $15,808. Over 1,200 co-op employers in 41 states and 45 international locations, as well as services to conduct an independent search, are available to Drexel students.
Northeastern University, Boston, MA
Northeastern has one of the largest co-op programs in the nation, with over a third of the student body participating each year. Starting in 1909, this private institution has offered programs over the course of four or five years in conjunction with university classes. Students are placed in organizations from Fortune 500 companies, to non-profits, to government positions in the United States Congress and the United Nations. The university leases housing in Boston, New York City, and D.C. for co-op participants, and students are encouraged to explore a variety of fields that interest them and are related to their coursework.
Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, GA
Georgia Tech, located in downtown Atlanta, is celebrating its co-op centennial in 2013. While this university is the leading supplier of graduates to the aerospace and defense contracting industries, and specializes in co-op programs for engineering students, the school also provides jobs across various other majors in their five-year program. Since its inception, Georgia Tech’s co-op program has become the largest in the country, with co-op participants earning $8,000-$10,000 a term. Participants also do not pay tuition for their 12-hour audit course enrollment while they are working.
Berea College, Berea, KY
This small liberal arts school south of Lexington has consistently ranked at the top of the list for co-op colleges in the United States. As a work college, all students are required to work at least 10 hours a week, and all jobs are located on-campus. Berea provides all students admitted with full tuition, and their co-op pay is meant to help with student living and personal expenses. Only students whose family income falls in the bottom 40% of U.S. households are accepted, and many go on to complete graduate studies at top schools around the country. Weaving, woodworking, gardening, and information technology are just a few of the jobs offered by Berea. Bonus: Every student who cannot afford one receives a laptop that they take with them upon graduation.
Warren Wilson College, Swannanoa, NC
Located near Asheville, Warren Wilson is a small, rural college where students can work and connect with nature all year round. With popular majors like Outdoor Leadership and Environmental Science, the school boasts a 300 acre working farm and market garden, and is surrounded by 600 acres of forest perfect for students to hike through. Students work 15 hours a week throughout the year in one of the school’s 127 work crews including the Farm Crew, Plumbing Arts Crew, and the Organic Garden Crew. The school’s EcoDorm was the first to be certified in Leadership in Environmental and Energy Design, and students sell all their organic produce to local residents.