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Could the co-op program benefit from restructuring? | The Triangle

Could the co-op program benefit from restructuring?

Photo by Lucas Tusinean | The Triangle

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is oft-cited advice, but there are always benefits to renovating something that could use a few upgrades. It is undoubtedly true that the cooperative education program at Drexel is not broken, as it sees a significant amount of success and receives high praise, but it is also a fact that it is nowhere close to perfection. 

An analysis of the National Graduates Survey found that students who completed at least one co-op while in college earn higher salaries on average three years after graduation and often have higher GPAs than their peers. The same study suggests a trend of undergraduate programs moving towards more comprehensive internship programs and advises colleges and universities to establish a co-op program. Drexel is already a step ahead in both culture and reputation, but for some reason, it feels as though we are standing still. This is a golden opportunity to become more competitive and gain more ground, especially at a time where colleges and universities are fighting for the enrollment of dwindling classes. It may not be enough that Drexel ranks second in co-op and internship-focused institutions across the country, as the university  ranks 98th for universities overall (it’s beginning to matter less how good a program is, — according to a Niche survey; the majority of polled students’ decisions were heavily influenced by prestige and name recognition).

How, then, are we standing still, and more importantly – how can we move forward? A month into my first co-op, I could attest to the merits of the program, however, several easily solvable issues yet linger, issues that put it at a disadvantage. 

As with everything else, outward appearance matters. The Steinbright Career Development Center’s website does the job, but its outdated interface can be very confusing to users —  students and employers alike. The lack of attention given to SCDC Online runs the risk of coming off as unprofessional to employers interested in the co-op program. Making the website user-friendly is the best way to ensure that the best opportunities are seen by students. 

The curriculum for COOP 101 has also been cited by many students as unhelpful, as the requirements for the resume projects differ depending on the professor, and sometimes do not line up with the actual ideal resume formats suggested during application season. 

Drexel University could also better promote the program to prospective students. An applicant who does not look very deeply into the school and only applies because it is a local option, or perhaps because it ranks in the top 100 universities or just because the acceptance rate is high, may not even know about the co-op program. Sure, it is associated with the school’s name, but that is only useful for applicants well-acquainted with the school and its reputation. This alone does not speak to the benefits of the program, or provide applicants with an idea of how they could fit into it.

What solutions, then, can be suggested for these grievances within the program? I suggest killing several proverbial birds with one metaphorical stone– student involvement! Who can better describe the ways to improve student experience, than the students themselves? Having an opportunity for both website users and participants in the program to describe the ways the experience could have been better for them is the clearest path to improving it. A user interface makeover for the SCDC website is long overdue, to the point where there could be merit to making that project itself a co-op, perhaps for User Experience Design students to take advantage of. If the program is not being marketed as well as it could, why not hold brainstorming sessions with students studying marketing and related fields, asking in what ways the program might appeal better to other people their age? Who else could attest to the efficacy (or lack thereof) of the required COOP 101 course than a student who has had it on their roster? Utilizing the university social media pages to highlight several students a year and give them an opportunity to talk about their time in co-op, across all of the departments, would reach more prospective students in a more impactful way. And, of course, there is no one better to speak of the success and merits of the program than those who have gained valuable insights and long-lasting connections in their 6-18 months inside of it. 

Of course, it may also prove useful to look at the only school with a co-op program that outranks ours — that of Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts. A deep dive into their website suggests that many of the aforementioned suggested solutions might work in our favor. Their easy-to-navigate information page on the program markets it well to incoming students, provides stories of successful students and highlights employers, and offers extensive resources. That isn’t to say that SCDC does not do these things, but Northeastern provides a good model for how it can be done better. 
Time will only tell of the benefit brought to the co-op program when the looming switch to semesters takes place, but that is not a question for today. Big changes such as that one will, of course, have a major impact on the efficacy and acclaim of the program. But the small changes, the ones made possible by students and staff working in tandem, may provide the same degree of success.

This article is part of a grant awarded to The Triangle from the Solutions Journalism Network investigating student mental health at Drexel University.