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Jul 03 2017
by Emily McKeon

How The Co-Op Is Revolutionizing the College Experience

By Emily McKeon - Jul 03 2017

Thousands of universities spanning the United States annually compete in the “Admissions Marathon.” With their mission statements, stacks of statistics, fun facts and the like, each university intends to set themselves apart to appeal to the average eager senior. While college fairs only provide a glimpse into the colleges, there is one aspect that you may be overlooking. Cooperative education programs, generally known as “co-ops,” have been steadily becoming a popular option among undergraduates seeking to place a foot in the door ahead of graduation. There are even scholarships for cooperative education programs.

Universities such as Purdue University offer cooperative education programs. These programs are tailored to fit the specific college, surrounding location, majors and a multitude of other factors. Stephen P. Wanders, P.E., is the Associate Director in Cooperative Education at Purdue University. Fresh U asked him specific questions about their cooperative education program. 

1. What sets the cooperative education program apart?

“Purdue University offers a robust and rewarding cooperative education program as one of several experiential learning opportunities for students. With professional practice programs in 45 majors across eight of the ten colleges in the university, there are several options to choose from, which makes Purdue’s co-op program unique. Undergraduate students may elect to participate in the flagship five-session co-op program, which begins after freshman year and provides 18 months of full time work experience on an alternating semester schedule. Alternatively, students may wish to delay the start of their co-op experience and participate in the three-session co-op program, during which they will have 12 months of work experience beginning after sophomore year. A new option was added in summer 2017 called Parallel co-op where the student works full-time during the summer, and half-time during the fall and spring semesters while taking a half-time class load. Finally, Purdue offers a Master's co-op for graduate students seeking to complement their advanced degree with integrated work experience.”

2. Is the co-op more beneficial than an internship?

“We find that employers who recruit for full-time positions upon graduation expect students to have meaningful work experience on their resume. While most types of work experience that are directly related to the student’s academic field of study is extremely valuable, co-op offers an advantage beyond that provided with internships. In a co-op program where the student works for the same employer for all work rotations throughout the program, the student will become very familiar with the company’s culture and operations, making successive work rotations more meaningful and rewarding. Students are placed in positions of increased responsibility without having to get up the learning curve each time. Often times, the employer will assign the student to a different department or division or location for each work session, recognizing the student’s desire to experience a variety of work experience during their co-op program.”

3. What are the outcomes for the Cooperative Education Program?

“There are many ways to measure success for the students and employers engaged in our co-op programs. One measure of a successful outcome in the conversion rate of students in the co-op program who go on to work for the co-op employer after graduation. Last year, we experienced a conversion rate of about 50 percent, which is above the national average from the last several years, as reported by the NACE Co-Op and Internship survey.”

Co-Ops Versus Internships

Textbook Definitions

The Merriam-Webster definition of cooperative education program is “relating to or comprising a program of combined liberal arts and technical studies at different schools,” while the definition for internship is “a student or recent graduate who works for a period of time at a job in order to get experience.” The main difference to be highlighted is the word “program” in the first definition. Co-ops are designed to fit into your academic year; instead of attending classes, you will be solely focused on your work. With internships, most students choose to take an internship during the summer as it is more convenient. However, some students choose to intern during the school year.

Earning Some Green

Traditionally, co-ops are paid, full-time positions. Some universities, such as Drexel, guarantee that you will not just be a coffee runner, but an actual entry-level worker. The majority of undergraduates also can gain academic credit through their co-ops. It is always a great idea to double check if your major has paid co-ops. Undergraduate engineering students at Drexel average a $699 weekly salary and computer science majors average an $800 weekly salary while on co-op. In NACE’s 2014 Internship & Co-Op Survey, the hourly wage average was $17.44 compared to an average paid intern’s $16.35.

Internships tend to run hot and cold with pay. You may get lucky and score a paid internship. These tend to be the high demand majors such as the aforementioned. Additionally, internships can either be part or full-time. You may or may not be a coffee runner. After all, nearly everything hinges on the employer.


For paid internships, the class of 2014 had a 65.4% success rate in securing a job prior to graduation.

For unpaid internships, the class of 2014 had a 39.5% success rate in securing a job prior to graduation.

For co-ops, the overall employment rates tend to fall between 86% and 99%.

Some Universities That Offer Co-Op

Aside from Purdue University, Auburn University, Cornell University, Drexel University, Florida Institute of Technology, Georgia Institute of Technology, Michigan State University, Northeastern University, Ohio University, Rochester Institute of Technology, Stevens Institute of Technology, Syracuse University and West Virginia University, as well as a multitude of other universities offer co-op programs to their students.

Co-ops are truly revolutionizing college. With the hard statistics as a backing, it is difficult to say that cooperative education programs are not beneficial. The future is here.

Lead Image Credit: Pexels

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Emily McKeon - Drexel University

Emily is an English student at Drexel University. She has written for CollegeXpress, Spoon University, the Triangle, and currently edits for MAYA Literary Magazine as well as here at FreshU. Follow her on Twitter @mckeon_emily!

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