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The Academic Effects of Cooperative Education Experiences: Does Co-op Make a Difference in Engineering Coursework?

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2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Vancouver, BC

Publication Date

June 26, 2011

Start Date

June 26, 2011

End Date

June 29, 2011



Conference Session

Pay It Forward: Critical Thinking, Reflection and Faculty Engagement Promote Success in Engineering

Tagged Division

Cooperative & Experiential Education

Page Count


Page Numbers

22.1428.1 - 22.1428.14



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Paper Authors


Caroline R. Noyes Georgia Institute of Technology

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Georgia Institute of Technology
Dr. Caroline R. Noyes is the Assistant Director of the Office of Assessment at Georgia Tech. Caroline received her A.B. in Psychology from Randolph-Macon Woman's College, her M.A. in Student Affairs and Ph.D. in Educational Psychology from the University of Georgia. After a faculty career teaching psychology, she changed career paths to focus on assessing student learning and institutional effectiveness.

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Jonathan Gordon Georgia Institute of Technology


Joe Ludlum Georgia Institute of Technology

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Dr. Ludlum is the Coordinator of Survey Research for the Office of Assessment at Georgia Tech. Joe received his B.A. in Psychology from the University of Kansas, and his M.S. in Psychology and Ph.D. in Human Factors Psychology from Wichita State University. Joe’s main focus is data: finding or collecting information to support program assessment and evaluating institutional effectiveness.

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ASEE 2011 abstract |1 The Academic Effects of Cooperative Education Experiences: Does Co-op Make a Difference in Engineering Coursework?Cooperative education opportunities have been a staple of engineering training since theirinception in the early 20th century. Today, over 150 engineering and engineering technologyprograms incorporate cooperative education opportunities into their curriculum. Students benefitby having the opportunity to see the real-world relevance of what is being learned in theclassroom, by having an opportunity to earn money while also earning college credit, and byhaving the opportunity to engage in extensive career exploration. In fact, a central tenet of theexperiential education movement is that learning is enhanced when students are able to connectabstract or decontextualized content being learned in the classroom with concrete andcontextualized experiences in the world.While there has been considerable research on both career and pecuniary benefits of cooperativeeducation, there is a paucity of research examining the academic effects of co-op experiences onstudents while enrolled in engineering coursework. Does the time away from schoolsignificantly disrupt academics or does the work experience have a significant positive impact onacademic performance? This paper describes a research study including 9,800 undergraduatestudents enrolled in six engineering majors (Aerospace, Chemical/Biochemical, Civil,Environmental, Electrical and Computer Engineering, and Mechanical) at a Carnegie ResearchUniversity (very high research activity) with an extensive history of student involvement incooperative education. The analysis involved comparing the academic performance (asmeasured by final course grades) of co-op and non-co-op students in core engineering coursesidentified by the programs as fulfilling either ABET hard-skill or soft-skill learning outcomesbetween 2004 and 2009. Student academic ability was controlled using the cumulative GPA after30 hours earned at the institution. The findings show that there was a positive “co-op effect”approximately a third of the courses that were analyzed. Across the programs, 72.7 percent ofcourses exhibiting a positive co-op effect were 3000-level courses. The findings also show that in63.6 percent of courses where there was a co-op effect there was also a dosage effect, withstudents completing at least two co-op terms significantly outperforming those studentscompleting no co-op experiences. Additional analyses examined whether men (n = 7918) andwomen (n = 1952) demonstrated differential benefits from their co-op experiences. The findingsshowed that in six courses there was a significant interaction between gender and co-opexperience. In five of those courses, women who had completed at least one co-op experienceearned higher average grades in the class than their non-co-op same-sex peers; this pattern wasnot generalized to men. Interestingly, for women, a co-op effect was also evident in classesother than those previously identified as showing omnibus co-op effects including foundationalcourses such as thermodynamics and statics.This paper examines the apparent curricular benefits arising from participating in co-op, and inparticular, the benefits of persisting through multiple co-op terms. The paper will be of interestto cooperative education professionals, disciplinary faculty, educational researchers, andstudents.

Noyes, C. R., & Gordon, J., & Ludlum, J. (2011, June), The Academic Effects of Cooperative Education Experiences: Does Co-op Make a Difference in Engineering Coursework? Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC. 10.18260/1-2--18449

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