Cooperative Education: Combining College and Work for a Comprehensive Learning Experience

Article excerpt

How would you like it if your college years brought you more than just a diploma? If you could also gain experience working at a job related to your field of study? If you could be paid regular wages for that work? And if this specialized job experience helped you gain an even better advantage in the workplace after graduation?

If you answered "Very much!" to any or all of these questions, there's something you can do right now. Look into a college or university that offers cooperative education (co-op, for short). It's also known as work-integrated education and is available at hundred of educational institutions all over the world. Although primarily operating on the undergraduate level, co-op also exists in other degree programs, from the association to the doctoral.

Nearly 1,000 colleges and universities in the U.S. and Canada offer some form of cooperative education. The number of co-op schools in other countries is harder to pin down, but the World Association for Cooperative Education reports close to 700 members all over the globe, representing 28 countries.

Co-op provides a way of scheduling and designing undergraduate education so that you can receive built-in, on-the-job experience that complements your studies. In the best instance, your work assignment relates directly to the major field that you are pursuing.

Statistics from the National Commission for Cooperative Education underscore the growing importance of co-op as part of a university education.

Of the top 100 companies on the Fortune 500 List, 83% employ co-op students.

An estimated 50,000 employers -- public, private, and nonprofit -- hire cooperative education students.

Coop and minority students

As an minority student, you stand to gain some very real advantages from being involved in a cooperative education program. It may improve your access to permanent employment by your co-op employer.

For human resource professionals, finding highly qualified and trained employees for any position is a never-ending task, whether or not they are minorities. Companies are particularly eager to gain access to African Americans and other minorities, welcoming new ways to locate and cultivate them. One such approach is participating in an educational institution's co-op program. That way, they get a jump-start on hiring and training a talented young workforce.

Co-op is an educational gold mine for minority students. If there's a co-op office on your campus, visit it as soon as possible and take the first step toward your future professional development.

How does co-op work?

Classroom and workplace time is built right into the academic calendar of co-op schools. Briefly, how a co-op program work is as follows: Two students alternate on the same work assignment. When one is in school, the other is covering the job. The they change places. There can be variations to this pattern in terms of calendar and structure, but all co-op jobs offer some form of combined academic study and paid employment. And the goals is to provide you with an on-the-job experience that involves both working and learning -- one that reinforces your classroom studies.

As you might expect, engineering, technology, science, health and business areas supply the largest number of co-op jobs. If you major in these field, you have a more varied range of work possibilities. But if your academic aspirations run to such fields as journalism, the arts, elementary education, philosophy and political science, co-op employment possibilities do exist out there.

You and your co-op coordinator, who serves as the liaison between a college and the marketplace, work together to find a possible placement. …