Cooperative Education and Retention: A Study Among Science, Math, and Engineering Students

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Title: Cooperative Education and Retention: A Study Among Science, Math, and Engineering Students
Author: Grieco, Lesley Frances
Advisors: Audrey Jaeger, PhD, Committee Chair
Abstract: Student retention is a serious problem in higher education and is a heavily researched topic. Cooperative education, on the other hand, is not heavily researched, but more research could assist with discovering the benefits of cooperative education. Cooperative education (co-op) is defined in this study as a situation where students participate in the cooperative education program at the university and leave school for at least one semester to work in a 'real-world' work experience. Cooperative education research studies have shown that retention is higher for students who participate in cooperative education (Avenoso & Totoro, 1994), and co-op students are more likely to graduate than non co-op students Somers, 1986). However, cooperative education literature would benefit from additional quantitative research examining the relationship between students' participation in co-ops and their retention and graduation rates as was suggested by Van Gyn, Cutt, Loken, and Ricks (1997); Stull, Crow, and Braunstein (1997); Meade (1992); and Siedenberg (as quoted in Kerka, 1989). Furthermore, the retention and student departure literature does not mention cooperative education as a possible way to retain students. Little research has focused on utilizing cooperative education as a means of retention of science, math, and engineering (SME) students, especially after their first year of school. SME majors, in particular, have historically participated in cooperative education, but little research has focused on using cooperative education as a strategy for retaining this group of students. Consequently, this research study examined the relationship between retention and graduation of S.M.E. students and cooperative education at a large, public, land-grant, research-extensive university in the southern United States. This study used secondary data from both the university and cooperative education student databases. Participation in a co-op after freshman year was significantly associated with retention and graduation. Participation in a co-op later in students' college careers was also significantly associated with graduation. Time of participation in a co-op was not significantly associated with graduation. In other words, time of co-op did not matter; participation in a co-op did. Furthermore, co-op students had higher retention and graduation rates than non co-op students. Implications of this study are that cooperative education may be an additional tool for higher education administrators to increase retention and graduation rates and can be used by faculty members and advisors to assist students. Also, leaders of higher education institutions could investigate co-op addition and accreditation at more colleges and universities. Recommendations for future research are including more cohort years and/or more than one university, conducting research on more recent student cohorts or different types of students, connecting retention theorists' ideas and variables with cooperative education, conducting more quantitative research on student benefits of cooperative education, and utilizing a mixed methods approach.
Date: 2005-02-27
Degree: MS
Discipline: Higher Education Administration

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