Ross Bell is a senior at Lehigh Majoring in Management Consulting. He can be reached at [email protected]. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author alone.
Nearly 60 colleges in the United States offer a cooperative education program, or co-op, where students engage in full-time employment in lieu of their classroom education.
The preparation for a co-op begins months in advance. Most programs require a workforce preparation course focusing on business writing, resume building and professional etiquette. Students also undergo rigorous mock interviews and network with university alumni to help land positions at top companies.
Students are full-time, paid employees while in co-ops. By leveraging their course curriculum, students gain practical experience in their field of study while encountering their professional interests early on.
Additionally, participants begin developing their professional networks early, putting them in prime positions for the recruitment season following their junior year. These experiences sharpen soft skills and enable students to be more marketable following graduation.
Lehigh offers a version of professional experience for the College of Engineering, but it is unpopular, and most importantly, students do not receive academic credit. This makes it very difficult for some students to graduate with co-op experience and a bachelor’s degree within four years.
Like other leading universities currently are, Lehigh should expand its offerings to each of its four colleges and provide academic credits for qualifying co-op experiences.
As an intern at the Lehigh career center, I know that Lehigh students are smart and ambitious. However, too many students lack substantive experiences they can leverage in job interviews and write on their resumes.
Offering more cooperative education opportunities would bolster Lehigh’s mission for an integrated educational experience and enable students to maximize their appeal to competitive employers.
Putting our students into the workforce sooner would also strengthen Lehigh’s reputation and its relationships with employers.
There are some challenges to the full-time co-op program, including the limited number of job offerings in the Bethlehem area. But many schools, including Cornell University and Clarkson University, offer extensive co-op programs without being in optimal locations.
Telecommuting has also become commonplace and will enable students to acquire superior positions across the country.
Another concern is that co-op experiences could take time away from didactic education. But co-op programs and classroom education aren’t mutually exclusive. They are synergetic and enable students to further develop their education while putting pen to practice.
Lehigh University is a leader in post-college placement, with 97% of graduates either employed, involved in volunteer/military participation or enrolled in additional schooling following graduation. But co-op provides the opportunity for further improvement.
Students who completed a co-op can expect incomes about $2,000 to $4,000 greater than non-participants three years after graduation. These unique educational experiences can deliver better post-college outcomes, drive student satisfaction and ultimately bring in more alumni donations.
With the expansion of co-op offerings, Lehigh University would provide students more holistic educational experiences while better preparing them for the working world.