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Student Satisfaction with the Cooperative Education Program at Virginia Tech
Riess, Janet T.
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The Cooperative Education component of Career Services at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University is undergoing a Business Process Re-engineering to develop the "Best Cooperative Education" program. The components considered in this process are the employers, the students, the staff, and the University faculty. To determine what the students think of the present program and what they might want from an ideal program, a survey was developed and sent to all students currently enrolled in the program and the program participants who graduated in 1996. Participants were surveyed on three different areas: conducting a job search, assessing their experience on the job, and program administration. In addition, they were given the opportunity to comment on why they chose to participate in co-op, what the benefits were for participation, and what changes they would like to see in the program. Results of the survey showed that the main reason for choosing to participate in the program was to gain experience of all kinds. This experience included the "real world," the corporate culture, interpersonal skills, making contacts, having a better sense of self-worth, verifying choice of a major, and making links between classroom learning and on the job experience. Earning money to finance their education was a distant second choice. Increases in the mean responses of questions about the jobs being meaningful, challenging, utilizing skills and abilities, helping in classroom learning, involving well-defined projects, providing a variety of tasks and activities, allowing independent actions, and helping with classroom learning showed that as the students completed more work terms, they more strongly agreed that their job provided these attributes. They believed their colleagues at work were concerned about their professional growth and development and two-thirds would go to work for the company if given an opportunity. Telephone interviews are becoming more popular and should be included in skills-building sessions with prospective co-op students, according to the respondents. While most students found their jobs through Career Services and a co-op job fair, several departments provided the services in-house for their own students. Suggestions for improving the program clearly revealed that the students expect help and support through the whole process--finding the job, preparing to go to the workplace, and throughout their remaining undergraduate experience whether they are at school or at work. The students' preferences for program services may be difficult to provide within the current department culture where the goal is to do more with less. Career Services may need to make some decisions about how to spend their resources.
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