EDUCATION, COOPERATIVE, is a program that integrates classroom studies with paid, real-life work experience in a related field. As a result, students receive an academic degree and practical work experience.
Originally designed for college-level students working toward a bachelor's degree, these programs received a considerable amount of interest in the 1970s. In the 1980s, "co-op" programs declined due to increased academic requirements and budget cutbacks.
Since the early 1990s, there has been a resurgence of interest. Presently, they are offered at numerous two-year and four-year institutions. Similar programs offering classroom studies and time on the job have become popular in both vocational and traditional high schools. These provide students not bound for college with a smooth transition from school to work.
The federal government has had an impact in this area. As part of former Vice President Al Gore's "Staffing Reinvention Program," the Office of Personnel Management has consolidated thirteen programs, including Cooperative Education, into the Student Education Employment Program. This program serves as a bridge between classroom instruction and on-the-job training and at the same time introduces talented students to public service. Positions are available to students pursuing a high school diploma, a vocational or technical degree, an associate degree, a bachelor's degree, or a postgraduate degree.
The popularity of employing co-op students has also increased with employers in the private sector. According to the National Commission for Cooperative Education, more than 80 percent of the top 100 companies in the Fortune 500 employ students through college co-op programs.
College students in these programs working toward a bachelor's degree characteristically commit to a period of study that goes beyond the standard four-year time-frame. They alternate between their traditional studies and related on-the-job experience. Started in 1909, the co-op program at Boston's Northeastern University, an often copied example, offers students a practice-oriented education that blends the strengths of a traditional liberal arts and sciences curriculum with an emphasis on professionally focused practical skills.
Values of the co-op system include the increased visibility and abilities of the student entering the job market, the easing of the student's college financial burden due to compensation for work, and the ability to comprehend learning on a more concrete level due to the exposure to the work environment. Values to the employer include the opportunity to view potential employees as they work in the co-op programs and the establishment of connections with colleges whose students will seek employment upon graduation.
One drawback of the co-op system is the fragmentation of liberal arts studies due to interruptions as the student goes to work. Less opportunity for continuity in extracurricular activities and college social life are also seen as negatives for the student. For the employer, drawbacks include the expense of training students who would not return after the co-op experience had been completed and the disruptions caused by the continual changing of members within the workforce.
Other related programs include summer internships, apprenticeships, and independent-study courses based on on-the-job experience.
College Cooperative Education: The National Commission's Site: http://www.co-op.edu.
Hoberman, Solomon. "Time-Honored or Time Worn? Cooperative Education in the 1990s." Vocational Education Journal (March 1994).
Northeastern University's Division of Cooperative Education: http://www.coop.neu.edu.
Re, Joseph M. Earn & Learn: An Introduction to Cooperative Education. Alexandria, Va.: Octameron Associates, 1997.