Options and earnings grow for UC co-op students

Posted at 7:00 AM, Jan 22, 2016
and last updated 2016-01-22 13:06:50-05

The University of Cincinnati made headlines in the fall for its record enrollment and retention rates, but some lesser-known growth at the school means big news — and fuller wallets — for students.

Last year, the university’s cooperative education students earned a total of $57 million, an increase of $19 million over the past five years. Individually, UC co-op students earned an average of $10,144 last year, and their average hourly wage was $15.85, nearly a dollar more an hour than the average five years ago.

The school’s co-op program, in which students regularly alternate time spent in the classroom with time spent in the workforce, also saw close to 6,000 unique placements, around 3,500 unique students and roughly 1,300 unique co-op employers, which last year included such household names as Duke Energy, General Electric, Fisher-Price, Nike, Kroger and Toyota.

“Over the past 10 years, UC has grown enrollment by about 50 percent,” said Kettil Cedercreutz, associate provost and director of UC’s Division of Professional Practice and Experiential Learning, known as ProPEL. “During that same period, co-op enrollment has grown by 62 percent.”

Cedercreutz attributes the evolution to several factors, including the university’s switch from quarters to semesters in 2012. Students on a semester calendar spend 20 months on co-op, compared to 18 months on quarters, he said.

Another factor, of course, is UC’s burgeoning overall enrollment.

In 2011, UC’s co-op program expanded from offerings within four colleges — Engineering & Applied Science; Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning; Education, Criminal Justice, & Human Services; and Carl H. Lindner College of Business — into ProPEL, an umbrella department which today offers not only co-op opportunities but also academic internships across campus, and opportunities for international experiential learning, service learning, undergraduate research and interdisciplinary learning.

This year, ProPEL will add two new co-op programs, Cedercreutz said. The first, a co-op for students in the department of communication, began Jan. 11 and marks the McMicken College of Arts and Sciences’ first co-op program. The second, a fine arts co-op program within DAAP, will roll out later this year.

Another factor contributing to the growth of UC’s co-op program, Cedercreutz said, is UC’s increasing global recognition as an institution that combines high-impact experiential learning opportunities, a competitive, externally funded research environment and an eclectic academic setting.

Then there are the benefits.

In addition to earning a salary and gaining valuable workforce experience, co-op students also tend to absorb information better when they return to the classroom, Cedercreutz said.

“They tend to stick to their programs better and understand the material better,” he said. “It produces a more solid graduate.”

In fact, Michelle Clare, associate director of ProPEL, said preliminary data indicates a positive impact on retention rates for students who participate in experiential learning. “We’re getting ready to take a look at the correlation and study that further,” she said.

To participate in a co-op, students must be in good academic standing at UC at the end of their first year.

UC’s co-op program was founded in 1906 as the first program of its kind in the nation. Today, it’s the largest mandatory co-op program at a public institution in the nation, Cedercreutz said, with mandatory requirements in the colleges of Engineering & Applied Science and DAAP.

UC’s biggest co-op programs

  • Within UC’s co-op program, the College of Engineering & Applied Science makes up the largest number of placements with 3,150, or more than half, of today’s 6,100 placements.
  • Its students also earn the highest average hourly wage, at $16.70.
  • At that rate, co-op students’ earnings over five co-op semesters would be just under $58,000. That more than covers the cost of four years of in-state, undergraduate tuition, which at $6,004 per semester in the 2015–16 academic year adds up to just more than $48,000.
  • Student education costs also include additional fees and can include housing and food costs; the $6,004 figure does not include those.

Source: UC College of Engineering & Applied Science,
UC bursar’s office