The Cooperative Education Learning Model as an Integral Part of Higher Education:

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Cooperative Education plays an integral part in 38 academic degree programs at the University of Cincinnati. It adds a dimension to students’ educational experiences that has long-term and career-relevant impacts. As the inventor of cooperative education, the University of Cincinnati is in a unique position to comment on the conceptual and practical aspects of this exciting aspect of higher education. This paper provides background and history about cooperative education and describes how the program works at the University of Cincinnati. Benefits and advantages to all three entities of the co-op triad – the University, students, and employers – are explained. A retrospective section is devoted to the honorary individuals and institutions that helped shape cooperative education since its inception over 100 years ago. The article concludes with a sampling of student success stories and thoughts for the continuing evolvement of cooperative education. Cooperative Education (referred to throughout this paper as “co-op”) fits in the broad type of learning known as experiential learning, which is also known as work-integrated learning. R. S. Reeve in the “Employer’s Guide to Work-Integrated Learning,” published in 2001 by the World Association for Cooperative Education, Inc. elicited many terms used to describe this type of learning. He listed the following as terms often used: cooperative education (the most common form), job shadowing, practice-oriented education, work-based learning, externships, internships, industry-based learning, field studies, practica, independent studies, apprenticeships, school-to-work programs, preceptorship, and school leavers. What they all have in common is their goal to integrate theory with practice by alternating, in some pattern, learning in the classroom with working experience on the job. The meaningful distinction between experiential or work-based learning and traditional classroom-based learning is that in experiential learning, the student is both the agent and the beneficiary. In other words, the student is not the passive recipient of information that has been chosen by someone else, but rather the student is an active participant in all aspects of the learning experience. Recently, many universities in China have been practicing various forms of learning under the name of Cooperative Education. As the birth place of Cooperative Education, the University of Cincinnati has built a legendary Cooperative Education program throughout her hundred year history. This paper will start with a brief overview of various types of work-integrated learning, which is followed by a review of cooperative education definition and history. The main focus of the paper is the co-op program at the University of Cincinnati. Lessons and experience are summarized at the end.


There are many types of work-integrated learning in higher education. Several of these are described, followed by an in-depth description of cooperative education. Internships – Internships are usually a single experience which is strategically placed during the course of an overall academic degree program. For example, an internship in a 2-year master’s program might be done during the summer between the first and second years of the program. The work done during the internship is usually degree-relevant and discipline-specific. Students may, or may not, be paid for the work they do during their internship. Majority of internships are part of a graduate program. Internships provide important opportunities for students to apply the principles they are leaning about in their degree programs. Summer Hire Programs – These programs are similar to internships in that they take place during the summer. However, they are not necessarily discipline-specific or degree-relevant. These positions could be seasonal work where there is an increased need to provide services in a...
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