Co-op programs increase chances of landing jobs

Kenneth J. Cooper | 12/24/2013, 8:39 a.m.

Since the recession started in 2008, many college graduates have struggled to find suitable jobs in their fields. Parents and students, who have started to doubt a degree’s value, may want to consider colleges where students rotate between classes and jobs.

The students there gain valuable experience that helps them land jobs after graduation. The dozens of schools that offer cooperative education, or co-op, have maintained their high rates of placing graduates since 2008.

“It’s been demonstrated, and I speak broadly, throughout North America as well as many other countries we work with, that co-op students do very well in the job market,” said Paul Stonely, CEO of the World Association for Cooperative Education, which is based at UMass Lowell.

“My experience has been, even during a recession, or I’ll say particularly in a recession, there is more of an inclination of companies to hire the co-op student because they know they’re hiring someone with professional experience,” Stonely said. “If they’re hiring fewer, they obviously want to be very selective. We didn’t experience any downturn in hiring co-op students during the recession period.”

Northeastern University, which has one of the oldest co-op programs in the country, is an example. From 2006 to 2012, 90 percent of Northeastern grads were in full-time jobs or graduate school within nine months of commencement.

Fully 87 percent of those who were working had jobs related to their majors. Of those, half had received a job offer from an employer where they worked as co-op students.

“Co-op, we continue to hear, is a big draw,” said Kara Shemin, media relations manager at Northeastern. “I think the word, ‘jobs’ and knowing the job market is tough is a draw. It’s also the experience. Kids are going to be better prepared for the workforce because of their time on co-op.”

Henry Nsang left Cameroon in West Africa to attend UMass Boston, taking engineering courses. Then he learned that the school has only a two-year engineering program. Most of its students transfer to other colleges to get their degrees.

After a year and a half, Tsang transferred to Northeastern.

“I chose Northeastern because I was really interested in the co-op program. I’m a very hands-on type of person, so I wanted to get that experience before graduating — just to make sure it was what I wanted to do,” Nsang said. “I wanted to make sure that the decisions that I make are the right decisions and the investment I’m making is going to pay off, maybe not immediately, but definitely down the road.”

They did. After graduating in 2010, Nsang’s six-month experience on co-op as a junior engineer in New York helped him land a similar position in Cameroon.

Nsang returned to Northeastern for graduate school the next year, earning a master’s degree in environmental engineering in May. Since September, he has worked as a project engineer for Janey Construction Management & Consulting on Huntington Avenue near Northeastern.

Of his co-op experience, Nsang said: “I would say it definitely helped in getting my current job.”