What is CO-operative Education?

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Co-operative education was the idea of a University of Cincinnati Professor, who in 1906 introduced the cooperative system of education concept linking theory with practice. Through the alternation of time spent in classroom instruction with time spent in work based practical experience in the students’ chosen field, the student learns to apply theory to practice and to then gain more applicable knowledge when back in the classroom. 

Due to the availability of on-line classes and some employers only offering part-time co-ops, the UNA CO-OP Program has adapted to meet the needs of those students by offering Alternating CO-OP, Parallel CO-OP and a Professional Practice Program. These are compensated positions.

A traditional, otherwise referred to as Alternating CO-OP, is a 3 semester rotation with the student working full-time(no class attendance) one semester, going to school full-time the next semester and rotating until the student has worked a total of 52 weeks, or one year, with the same employer. Work responsibilities are based on the students’ academic major. Each work assignment has increasing responsibilities and contains an employer evaluation component.  The student has a work plan that is discussed with their advisor, however, there is no academic credit awarded for working the co-op. Compensation for working a co-op is usually higher than that of an internship and  close to market wages for the industry. The student is registered in Banner and CO-OP is reflected on their transcript with zero credit. This maintains their full-time student status with the University with regards to health insurance, student loan deferment and priority registration for the next semester.

The Parallel CO-OP is for students who are not working full-time and who desire to take courses along with working. This differs from simply “working while going to school” in that there is a direct correlation between their academic major and the work they are doing combined with the employer partnership/evaluation component. The requirements and reporting are the same as with the Alternating CO-OP Program.

The Professional Practice Program exists to meet the unique needs of students who are seeking a single work experience or some other unique experience not met by an established departmental internship program. Professional Practice is a unique option available to students who have received a job opportunity requiring them to work full-time for an entire semester. All experiences will complement the educational programs/career objectives of the student's academic program.

The Professional Practice Program is a less stringent program allowing students to satisfy the employer request that a student be recommended as CO-OP eligible even when there is no guarantee there will be an additional work rotation requirement. Examples include the Disney Internship Program (where the student is ineligible for internship credit) and requests from Redstone Arsenal. These are one-semester only programs. The Professional Practice Program does not have an employer evaluation component.

With reference to CO-OPs on Redstone Arsenal, the Federal Government’s definition of CO-OP and intern vary from the University. They have programs known as STEP and SCEP that both require University verification of student status.

The Student Temporary Employment Program (STEP) provides students with part-time federal jobs during the school year or during the summer that do not have to be directly related to their major or career goals. The Student Career Experience Program (SCEP) offers work experience directly related to a student's academic studies and requires commitments from the student, their school and the employing agency. Students may be eligible for permanent employment after completing their education and successfully meeting work requirements.

These programs may or may not require a 3 term rotation, but rather, are training programs designed to promote the student into permanent employment upon their graduation. This may also extend to the graduate level. Redstone entities hire students at various stages in their academic career and some may not have time left before graduation to work 3 rotations. For more information please go to:


Why CO-OP?

There are many benefits and advantages to the student, employer and the university in maintaining an active CO-OP program.


  • A CO-OP may or may not be with a local company. The option to CO-OP outside of the Shoals area gives our students exposure to a larger world view
  • Can earn a salary that can assist in paying for college
  • Learn valuable practical job skills
  • Gain exposure to the latest trends in technology
  • Develop maturity, professionalism and self-confidence
  • Improve GPA as classes become more meaningful following work experience
  • Acquire networking opportunities with professionals in chosen fields
  • Earn more income and advance more rapidly in the chosen career field upon graduation than students that do not have CO-OP experience


  • Evaluate potential new hires prior to full-time job offers as the CO-OP becomes a 3 month interview
  • Have less down time training the new employee as the student is already familiar with processes, procedures, company policies and culture
  • Provide an opportunity to participate in and influence the educational process as well as maintains positive contact with the University
  • Communicate the needs of business and industry to the University
  • Have a qualified pool of candidates to hire from at the end of the co-op rotation. Employers tell us this is where they get many of their new hires.

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