Cooperative education is a structured educational strategy integrating classroom studies with learning through productive work experiences in a field related to a student’s academic or career goals. It provides progressive experiences in integrating theory and practice. Co-op is a partnership among students, educational institutions and employers, with specified responsibilities for each party.  According to The National Commission for Cooperation.

Essential Characteristics

Formal recognition by the school as an educational strategy integrating classroom learning and progressive work experiences, with a constructive academic relationship between teaching faculty and co-op faculty or administrators. Structure for multiple work experiences in formalized sequence with study leading to degree completion of an academic program. Work experiences which include both an appropriate learning environment and productive work. Work experiences related to career or academic goals. Formal recognition of the co-op experience on student records (e.g. grade, credit hours, part of degree requirement, notation on transcript, etc.) Pre-employment preparation for students, as well as ongoing advising.

  • College co-op programs differ from internships in that the work experience is integrated into the academic curriculum. Co-ops are always paid positions, and they’re set up as sequential, ongoing experiences. Much like in college coursework, the level of learning increases as you progress.
  • The average co-op student graduates with 18 months of experience from time spent in five to seven paid positions. That’s more than impressive to potential employers, and it’s the reason why more than 60 percent of co-op students nationally accept permanent jobs from their co-op employers. Perhaps even more impressive is the fact that 95 percent of co-op students find jobs immediately upon graduation (National Commission for Cooperative Education).
  • “Although a student’s first co-op experience involves doing fairly basic professional tasks, it is a paid position, and the student will not be making copies or pouring coffee,” says M.B. Reilly, author of The Ivory Tower and the Smokestack: 100 Years of Cooperative Education at the University of Cincinnati. “Instead, the work is directly related to the student’s major.”
  • Co-op programs begin early in the student’s college career, typically as a sophomore. Internships, on the other hand, are usually a capstone experience that takes place after the student’s academic work is complete.
  • Paying the student for his co-op work is important because it ensures that everyone—student and employer—makes the most of the experience.
  • Earnings from co-op programs are significant enough to contribute to the cost of a college education, if necessary. Consider the average monthly earnings of today’s University of Cincinnati co-op student: $1,700 to $2,500.
  • There are few geographical limitations to the co-op experience. Opportunities exist both in this country and overseas.

Student Outcomes Academic

  • Ability to Integrate Classroom Theory with Workplace Practice
  • Clarity about Academic Goals
  • Academic Motivation
  • Technical Knowledge Through Use of State-of-the-Art Equipment


  • Clarity about Career Goals
  • Understanding of Workplace Culture
  • Workplace Competencies
  • New or Advanced Skills
  • Career Management
  • Professional Network
  • After-Graduation Employment Opportunities


  • Maturity
  • Determination of Strengths & Weaknesses
  • Development/Enhancement of Interpersonal Skills
  • Earnings to Assist College Expenses or to Support Personal Financial
  • Responsibilities
  • Productive and Responsible Citizenship Skills
  • Lifelong Learning Skills

Employer Outcomes

  • Well-prepared Short-term Employees
  • Flexibility to Address Human Resource Needs
  • Cost-effective Long-term Recruitment and Retention
  • Access to Candidates with Sought-after Skills and/or Background
  • Increased Staff Diversity
  • Partnerships with Schools
  • Input on Quality and Relevance of School’s Curricula
  • Cost-effective Productivity

College and University Outcomes

  • Recruitment of New Students
  • Retention of Current Students
  • Wider Range of Learning Opportunities for Students
  • Enriched Curriculum
  • Enhanced Reputation in the Employment Community
  • Improved Rate of Employment of Graduates
  • Increased Alumni Participation (hire students, contribute money, etc.)
  • Partnerships with Business, Government and Community Organizations
  • Increased External Support by Corporations, Foundations & Government Grants

Societal Outcomes

  • Established Model for Workforce Preparedness
  • Income Tax Revenue
  • Reduced Demand for Student Loans
  • Productive and Responsible Citizens
  • Industry-Education Partnerships