Co-op Grads a Step Ahead of Competition

April 06, 2009 - News Release

Post-secondary students looking for a leg up in today's uncertain job market should consider enrolling in a co-op program, a University of Guelph researcher has found.

Graduates of co-op programs that combine on-the-job training with classroom education are more likely to find full-time work and earn more money than their counterparts in conventional programs, according to the paper published recently in the Journal of Vocational and Educational Training.

“Co-op programs work,” said U of G sociology professor David Walters, who co-authored the study with David Zarifa of Statistics Canada. “They work better in some areas than in others, but most people who graduate from co-op programs are better off on average than those who graduate with a conventional degree or diploma.”

The study found that students have the most to gain from enrolling in a university co-op program; graduates earned $8,000 a year more than graduates of conventional university programs, after controlling for field of study and other important predictors of earnings. Graduates of college co-op programs earned $2,000 more than graduates of conventional college programs. College and university co-op students were also more likely to be employed full-time two years after graduation.

The study draws on data from Statistics Canada’s 2000 National Graduates Survey, the most recent and comprehensive look at the school-to-work transition of university and college graduates. Conducted in 2002, it contains detailed information on more than 30,000 post-secondary graduates surveyed two years after graduation, including approximately 3,000 who reported completing a co-op program.

In addition to measuring the effects of co-op programs on graduates’ income and employment, this study is the first to look at how the outcomes are influenced by gender differences, said Walters. The data show the gender gap in pay is highest among graduates of trades programs.

“Co-op programs pay off more for men than women, but they still pay off tremendously for women, especially women who graduate from university co-op programs,” he said.

Co-op programs have expanded significantly in recent years, with three times as many graduates in 2000 as there were in 1990. Although they are still concentrated in applied fields such as engineering, mathematics and computer science, their popularity has spread to the liberal arts and social sciences. Walters said it is in these areas that co-op programs may be needed the most, to provide students with career-related work experience that will help differentiate them from the competition in the job marketplace.

He added that although the full effects of the current economic downturn won’t be known for some time, there is every reason to believe that co-op programs remain a good bet and expanding them would be beneficial. They provide students with a highly marketable mix of academic credentials and practical experience, while employers benefit by having access to an inexpensive source of skilled labour. So students, post-secondary administrators and policy-makers should take note, he said.

“There are no guarantees, but in today’s environment, people need every advantage they can get.”

For more information, contact Prof. David Walters at 519-824-4120, Ext. 52198, or For media questions, contact U of G Communications and Public Affairs: Lori Bona Hunt, Ext. 53338, or Barry Gunn, Ext. 56982

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