As student debt soars as high as ever, Virginia state legislators should look to encourage college co-op programs at public universities as a potential solution to the unemployment hurdles that some recent graduates are experiencing.
As our economy slowly recovers with the overall unemployment rate of 6.7 percent reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor in December, unemployment for people between the ages of 20 and 24 is still at 10 percent.
The Center For College Affordability and Productivity found that 48 percent of graduates find a position in a company that they are overeducated for. Since the 1970s, for example, the number of cab drivers with a college degree has jumped from 1 percent to 15 percent, a depressing conclusion for current students set to graduate with an outrageous amount of student debt.
A simple fix for this problem is the increase of college co-op programs at universities. Co-op programs let students spend one semester at a company before returning back to the university for the next semester. Participants repeat this until they earn their degree.
The result of these co-op programs is that students gain a significant advantage in employment over those who did not work in their field. They also gain perhaps the greatest benefit of college, which is networking, as they have experience working with the actual company they seek employment at. A connection with a company is just the extra nudge some students could use for employment.
Purdue University has found significant success with it’s co-op program. Students at Purdue graduate a year later; however, upon graduation, they have 18 to 20 months worth of experience in the field they are looking to enter. the schools of engineering, technology, science, liberal arts, agriculture and management at Purdue all participate in the co-op program. The result of these co-op program’s is that 50 percent of students who participated were hired by the company they worked for during their co-op.
Imagine being an employer and having to choose between two candidates: one with higher grades, or, one with average grades, but actual experience in the field itself. This is the advantage that students participating in these co-op’s gain and something that we should demanding more of in our public universities. Although VCU offers great opportunities for students with its internship requirements, a more extensive co-op program would be an improvement for the university.
As politicians celebrate an abysmal 6.7 percent unemployment rate as some sort of victory over the great recession, graduates need every resource their university could potentially provide for success. More Virginia universities should provide co-ops and give their students the chance at not falling into the trap of being overqualified for employment or making their degree seem worthless. Our universities can toss our students out into the real world full of debt and no real world experience or they can offer them the experience employers are looking for in their future employees.