Effects of Cooperative Education on Community College Employment Outcomes at the School to Work Transition

Article excerpt

The major purpose of cooperative education is to prepare students for the workplace by combining academic education with practical experience to develop employment competencies. This research compared employment outcomes and employment earnings for graduates from cooperative education programs with graduates from non-cooperative programs at a large comprehensive community college. Two major sources of data were used in the analysis. Four years of data from an annual survey of recent graduates were merged with institutional data on the characteristics of respondents. After descriptive statistics suggested there were differences between the two groups of graduates, regression techniques were employed to isolate the effects of other possible explanatory variables. Findings indicated that recent cooperative program graduates were more likely to be employed, to be employed in positions related to their education, and to have somewhat higher earnings than non-cooperative program graduates. This suggests cooperative education may signal to the employing community that cooperative education program graduates bring enhanced human capital to the job.

Introduction to Cooperative Education

The major purpose of cooperative education is to prepare students for the workplace by combining academic education with practical experience to develop specific as well as generic competencies (Rainsbury, Hodges, Burchell, & Lay, 2002). The point is to link the world of academic learning more closely to the world of employment earning and learning. There are two predominant models for cooperative education (Grubb & Villeneuve, 1995), and both involve classroom-based and work-based learning. One model has students divide their daily activities between school and work, while the second uses alternating time periods (usually semesters) of paid employment and academic study. Both models also use connecting activities such as co-op coordinator visits to job sites and employer attendance at orientation or selection sessions. Cooperative education models are used at post-secondary education institutions in the United States (Kerka, 1999) and in Canada (Marquardt, 1996). Such programs are found in many fields of academic study (Thiel & Hartley, 1997).

Benefits of Cooperative Education

Many benefits are ascribed to flow from cooperative education to the employing community as well as to students. For employers, the benefits include superior labor force flexibility, reduced costs of recruitment and training, and input into curricula development at community colleges and universities. The benefits for students include work experience, hands-on application of classroom learning, a network of contacts, and perhaps improved employment outcomes after graduation (Grubb & Villeneuve, 1995; Darch, 1995).

In addition, students may achieve enhanced earnings while learning. This income is important for students and for the economy at a period in an individual's life generally associated with educational costs rather than earning an income. For example, during the 2000-01 school year at the community college under study, 618 co-op student placements were created, generating $4.4 million (Canadian) dollars of labor income for these students while they pursued a post-secondary education (on average, approximately $7,100 per student).

A student's overall cost for education comprises not only direct costs such as tuition, books, accommodation, and meals, but also the opportunity cost of student time, measured usually in terms of income foregone because of studying rather than working. This forgone income is also considered to be a loss of potential output and is a resource cost to the economy as a whole (Jones, 1995). The income foregone is often partially offset by work obtained while attending school. At the study community college, a survey of a random sample of 396 full-time certificate and diploma students indicated that about 50 % work while studying. …