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Cooperative Education and Internship - Employer Guide

Table of Contents

Purpose | Description | Employer Benefits | Student Benefits | University Benefits | Impact | The Cooperative Education Process | Periods of Employment | Student Requirements for Co-Op Enrollment | Participant Responsibilities | Compensation | Unpaid Positions | Evaluation | Cooperative Education Awards | Conclusion


Appendix A - Supervisor's Guide to Mentoring Cooperative Education Student Employees | Appendix E - Selection Guidelines for Hiring Cooperative Education Students | Appendix F - Tips On Creating A Successful Cooperative Education Program

The Cooperative Education Employer Guide has been created to provide you with information about the Cooperative Education Program (Co-op) and how you can become involved in the Co-op Program at Central Washington University. This guide will describe the program, its benefits and its impact. It will help you identify how Co-op students can be a unique asset to your organization.

For you to derive the greatest value from the experience, we offer suggestions and guides for the employer supervisor and an outline for the development of a mentor program. This guide explains the Co-op process and offers an opportunity to open a cooperative relationship with Central. We hope you will find this guide informative and helpful.


The purpose of the Employer Guide is to give current participating employers and those new to cooperative education a complete and accurate concept of the Cooperative Education Program. Central Washington University wants all parties involved in co-op to benefit from the experience. The best way to ensure that is to have all parties share a common understanding of the program and the expectations and responsibilities of each participant.


Cooperative Education is a university program where students are placed with employers in positions related to their major field of study and career interests. Cooperative education considers the employer's needs first and second the achievement of student learning objectives, with the focus on the University's mission. Co-op offers both undergraduate and graduate students a unique opportunity to integrate career, social, and personal development into the educational process. The result for you is a pre-screened and pre-trained candidate for full-time employment upon graduation.

Because of the focus on employer needs, it is appropriate to offer compensation for the student. The internship is of value to the employer as students come with academic preparation for the field and fulfill a genuine employment need. They help accomplish, through their work assignments, established goals or objectives of the organization. The work experience is focused for the students through predetermined learning objectives developed in collaboration with a faculty advisor and the employer. The University remains a relatively non-intrusive guiding force.
Students develop an identity with the profession and the career they are preparing for through their academic studies, they develop a sense of professionalism through interaction with their peers and supervisors, and they acquire a sense of direction for their university experience beyond the classroom. The work experience is evaluated by both the employer and the faculty advisor to award college credit.

Students are not limited to a single work experience. They may enroll in cooperative education several times, depending on the major and number of credits. They may return to the same employer with new responsibilities or seek an experience with different employers according to their needs and the work opportunities available.

Employer Benefits

Employers involved repeatedly site the following as unique benefits from the Co-op Program:

  • Offers employers a cost-effective program for recruiting highly qualified and talented students to meet company needs.
  • Allows employers to select students from resumes and applications and decide who to interview and hire.
  • Frees up regular full-time staff to pursue higher level projects.
  • Provides highly motivated students who gain a high level of productivity quickly.
  • Meets peak or seasonal needs without a long-term commitment.
  • Is a faster training cycle.
  • Permits flexible work scheduling.
  • Provides the opportunity to observe and evaluate prospective employees under actual working conditions.
  • Opens the door to influence the design and content of college curricula.
  • Offers a low-cost method of training potential future employees.

Student Benefits

Each student derives a unique benefit from their cooperative education experience. The following are the benefits most frequently identified by students:

  • Evaluates capacity to perform in a chosen career.
  • Learns career paths in a chosen field.
  • Develops self-confidence, maturity, and responsibility.
  • Develops human relation skills.
  • Learns professional work ethic.
  • Provides interaction with professionals in the field.
  • Provides training on state-of-the-art equipment used by business and industry.
  • Offers an opportunity to make contacts for future employment.
  • Adds career-related work experience to the resume.
  • Earns college credit.
  • Earns money.

University Benefits

In addition to the less measurable public relations aspect of student placement, the following are most frequently cited as benefits to the University:

  • Helps faculty by providing a direct contact with practicing professionals.
  • Enhances feedback to the college regarding updating curricula.
  • Creates an avenue for business and industry to become part of the University.
  • Provides feedback regarding the skills and job market needs for student employment at graduation.
  • Increases placement rates for students upon graduation.


We believe, and studies verify, that students who include practical work experience as part of their academic program are better prepared for career employment at graduation than those who do not. The function of a University is to educate students and help prepare them for life in our society and the world, including careers.

For the Co-op Program to be meaningful to the academic and career development of students, the work experience must be related to the student's academic major and at a level commensurate with the student's background and ability. By providing credit, the University formally recognizes the educational validity of such applied experience.

By providing work experiences with reasonable wages, challenging assignments, training and supervision, employers have an opportunity to affect the educational system in a way that enables students to be better prepared for their career objectives and the university curriculum to be more responsive to the needs of employers.

Through active participation in cooperative education, the University and cooperating employers are able to commit themselves to the concept of total education and human resource development. Together we are combating the prevailing notion that students are not being adequately prepared to assume their future roles as competent, qualified employees and leaders for our nation's business, industry and government.

 The Cooperative Education Process

The program has been designed to be as simple as possible for the employer.

Becoming a Co-op Employer

There are several ways an employer may become involved in cooperative education:

Employer Initiated

The following steps will be helpful in developing a cooperative education position that meets the needs of your organization and helps you derive the maximum benefit from a student co-op experience:

  • Decide which areas of the organization would be best served by a co-op student.
  • Develop a student job description with selection criteria and submit it to the Cooperative Education Office.
  • Determine who will select, supervise, mentor, and evaluate the student. (See Appendix A for more information on supervision and mentoring.)
  • Develop an orientation and training plan for the co-op student.
  • Call CWU Career Services at (509) 963-1921 to discuss your needs and provide information necessary for student recruitment.
  • OR, email
  • OR, write to CWU Career Services, 400 E University Way, Ellensburg WA 98926-7499.

Student Initiated

Some employers become involved through direct contact from an interested student. We encourage students to seek their own positions as this helps them gain experience in the job search process and is considered an integral part of the cooperative education learning process.

Faculty Initiated

Faculty may arrange or suggest a student contact an organization with whom they have had previous professional interaction.

University Initiated

The Co-op Program initiates contact with employers who are perceived as having positions that could become valuable co-op opportunities for our students.

Process Summary

Once you have notified the CWU Co-op Office of a position available we recruit qualified students. Their application materials are sent to you according to the criteria you specify. You select students for interview and continue with your selection process. You notify the candidates and the Cooperative Education Center of your selection and proceed with the selected student.

The student will complete a Learning Agreement for your approval and will follow through with university requirements for registration.

The work experience begins and continues through the prescribed period. According to the Learning Agreement, a representative of the University may contact you and the student to check progress and satisfaction and address any questions or problems that may have arisen. We encourage you to contact the University with questions at any time.

Near the end of the academic quarter, a link for an evaluation will be emailed to you. We request that you complete it as soon as possible.

Periods of Employment

Employment periods must meet the needs of the employer and the academic periods of the University. Most start and end dates are somewhat flexible but generally follow the four quarters of the academic year.

Employers may specify a one quarter opportunity or multiple quarter placements, according to their needs and preferences. The quarters may or may not be sequential. Students must consider their academic needs and plan their class schedules before committing to terms of employment.

Students may choose a part-time (parallel) or a full-time (alternating) experience. In a parallel experience, students may work part-time and enroll in classes during the same quarter. Most co-op experiences, however, are full-time, or nearly full-time so students do not have an academic load at the time of employment. In these alternating experiences students may, for example, enroll full-time fall quarter in classes and full-time winter quarter for co-op, then full-time spring quarter for classes, then again summer quarter for co-op. Whether employers offer part-time or full-time employment, the employer obligation remains the same. Students return to campus after their work experience to complete their academic program.

Student Requirements for Co-op Enrollment

The student's major department may have additional requirements to these basic university requirements:

  • Must be regularly enrolled and pursuing a degree.
  • Must be in good academic standing.
  • Co-op position must be related to the major field of study or career goals.
  • Co-op position must be approved by appropriate University personnel.

Participant Responsibilities

Each party in the Co-op Program has significant responsibilities for successful student experiences and program development. Communication among these participants is important and should be free and open at all times.

Employer Responsibilities

  • Provide on-the-job supervision including helpful direction to train the student in the usual job functions and improve the student's knowledge. The supervisor should expect the student to work as responsibly as any other employee.
  • Provide a broad experience with a variety of responsibilities related to each student's major area of study and the objectives included in the Learning Agreement.
  • Conduct periodic appraisals of each student's performance and provide counseling that will improve performance.
  • Provide mid-term and final performance evaluations to the University.
  • Interact with faculty and other academic / university personnel.
  • Provide compensation based on the student's qualifications and job requirements.
  • Contact a representative of the University (usually the faculty advisor or the Co-op Office) if problems arise or if a student will be terminated.

Student Responsibilities

  • Read and follow the Cooperative Education Guide and Workbook.
  • Complete employer application process.
  • Complete the Co-op Learning Agreement.
  • Confirm registration for the Cooperative Education course.
  • Report to work as arranged with the employer.
  • Abide by employer's rules and regulations.
  • Perform work in a timely and satisfactory manner.
  • Submit an evaluation of the experience via the emailed link
  • Fulfill obligations of the Learning Agreement, including academic requirements and learning objectives.

University Responsibilities

  • Establish Cooperative Education employers.
  • Recruit students who are qualified and prepared for application.
  • Maintain contact with employer / supervisor to support both the employer and the student in the Co-op experience.
  • Establish a method of evaluation before the experience begins.
  • Provide guidance and advice to students as needed.
  • Help students formulate learning objectives, activities and evaluation method.
  • Review and approve Learning Agreements.


Compensation for the student's work rests with the judgment of the employer. You know the responsibilities you will be assigning the student and the quality of work that will be required. You also assign the parameters for student application and selection. The rate of compensation should be reflective of the quality of the student's assignments and the qualifications required.

Most employers offer a regular hourly rate. However, you may offer a base rate with the option for a raise or an end of the quarter bonus with certain achievement requirements attached. The key is that the student is fairly compensated for the work done.

Further responsibilities of the employer include the legally required workmen's compensation insurance (Labor and Industries) and the usual social security and federal income tax withholding. No other insurance or benefits need be offered or are required for the student.

In essence, the students are inexpensive employees who are in the process of becoming professionals, are highly motivated and eager to prove themselves in the work environment.

Unpaid Positions

Those students who work in "unpaid" positions must do so under certain conditions defined by the FLSA. The criteria are:

  1. The training, even though it includes actual operation of the employer's facilities, is similar to training that would be given that would be given in a vocational school.
  2. The training is for the benefit of the student.
  3. The student does not displace regular employees, but works under the close ovservation of a regular employee.
  4. The employer provides the training and derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the student. Occasionally, the operations may actually be impeded by the training. For example, a Public Relations major working in a company that requires the student to spend a considerable amount of time completing office support activities (typing, filing, clerical) that a regular employee would be doing, that company would most likely be required to pay the student for that work.
  5. The student is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the training period.
  6. The employer and the student understand that the student is not entitled to wages for the time spent training.

For more information regarding the FLSA standards, go to: Department of Labor Guidelines for Unpaid Internship in the For-Profit Sector


Evaluation should be an on-going process throughout the student's work experience. We encourage supervisors to visit with the student as often as practical to provide guidance for continued improvement in their work and to strengthen skills and desired characteristics.

The Cooperative Education Office will send you an evaluation form toward the end of the student's work period. You may use this form or any method you prefer to provide us an overview of the student's performance and your experience with the cooperative education program. Your evaluation will become part of the criteria for the student's grade and will be considered in the continuing development of the Co-op Program. All evaluations are confidential to the student, faculty advisor and the Co-op Office.


It has been the intent of this Employer Guide to present an overview of the Cooperative Education Program at Central Washington University. The presentation has been with the employer's perspective foremost.

It is our hope that this Guide will advance our efforts for business and academic partnerships. We also hope it will foster the creation and development of work experience opportunities for Central Washington University students.

We continue our efforts to prepare students to assume their roles in our society as valuable, competent and effective employees. We encourage your participation in these efforts.

Appendix A - Supervisor's Guide to Mentoring Cooperative Education Student Employees

The work supervisor is the most important link in the Cooperative Education experience. It is the supervisor who sees that the goals of the organization are met throughout the work experience and assignments of the student employee. The supervisor becomes the role model, the foundation for the student's perception of the organization and its management. The supervisor establishes the climate for the experience.

Most successful supervisors take on the role of a mentor. Defined, a mentor is a tutor, coach; a trusted counselor or guide. Mentoring means getting to know another individual beyond superficial conversations, and then acting to support that individual. Mentoring is not a "fast track" program, but one that instills organizational values and where teamwork and motivation are strengthened. In a co-op experience, a mentor is an experienced member of a team who takes the student "under their wing" aiding in organizational socialization and passing along both technical and non-technical knowledge and information.

Productivity is a key issue. The more rapidly a new employee can learn to navigate within the organization and function like a seasoned employee, the more productive and valuable the employee becomes to the organization. The mentor is the nexus in the transition from student to employee. In the academic arena, students are required to work independently. Success means learning to rely on their own resources. As employees they are no longer studying or working alone, they are working with a team. Mentoring can be a valuable tool assisting co-op employees in making an effective and rapid transition between college and work and in becoming productive and valued employees.

Plan for Success

Anticipate the student's arrival.
Brief the staff about the student, when they are expected to start and the projects you plan to assign them. Encourage the staff to help make the student feel part of the team.

Plan a work space for the student with supplies they will need to fulfill their responsibilities and assignments.

Plan a progression of assignments so the student establishes a foundation of simple successes and gets acquainted with the staff and the processes of the organization. It is also desirable to plan at least one project the student will be a part of from start to finish.

Communicate your expectations. Provide information about the student's role and relationship to the team's goals. Explain the standard of excellence and your expectations of integrity and ethical conduct. Help the student understand priority issues and who to ask to clarify priorities in times of confusion.


New employee orientation is the first step in making a successful transition. Some things that should be included in the orientation are:

1. Facts about the company or agency including history, purpose, philosophy, organizational structure, formal policies (written), informal policies (unwritten but followed).
2. Information about the city or geographic area if the student is not familiar, including transportation and things to do.
3. A tour of the building or area to help the student understand how they fit in the larger picture. Locations of such things as restrooms, parking, cafeteria, supplies, meeting rooms, mail, etc.
4. Introduce them to co-workers, helping them understand company/office culture and the roles of other team members, their individual differences and expertise.
5. Administrative details such as breaks, lunch, overtime, staff meetings, security, and resources.

Provide as much information as possible to help your student feel comfortable and competent in the new surroundings.

Mentor Selection

The process of choosing and matching mentors with students and training mentors deserves careful attention and resources. Opportunity to make changes needs to be built in if either party is experiencing difficulty. The co-op mentor should be a role model. Desired characteristics are:

  • Someone with strong interpersonal skills, good communication skills, and good listening skills.
  • Someone who is accessible, available, and approachable.
  • Someone who demonstrates good problem-solving skills.
  • Someone who is accepting and nonjudgmental.
  • Someone with patience.
  • Someone with significant organization and business knowledge.
  • Someone who is loyal to the organization and a high performer.
  • Someone with technical competence and a good motivator.
  • Someone who is willing to be responsible for the student's growth.
  • Someone with sufficient time and is willing to dedicate a small portion of it to the training, helping, and coaching of the co-op student.

Guidelines for the Mentor

For both the organization and the student to reap the greatest benefit from the relationship, set the structure for the experience.

Promote Professionalism
- Clarify expectations from the Learning Agreement and an overview of the student's employment responsibilities. Outline employee standards and codes of behavior. Expect the most and the best from your student employee.

Give Supportive, Constructive Evaluations
- For highest productivity provide specific feedback on strengths and areas for improvement. Be candid. Emphasize positive aspects of work behavior. Make suggestions in a positive manner. Hold feedback sessions often and in private.

Challenge the Student's Capabilities
- Build confidence by trusting the student's judgment. Encourage risk taking. Suggest new ways to interpret situations. Discuss problems that have no clear cut solutions. Expect professional, responsible participation from the student.

Be A Coach
- Help with career development: suggest job shadowing, informational interviewing, peer monitoring, networking skills, etc. Help the student set goals. Listen without judgment. Be sensitive to student's needs, feelings and readiness for help. Clarify professional values and behaviors. Clarify expectations.

Set high standards and expect a professional attitude and performance from your student. With these concepts and others appropriate to your specific organization, the mentor, the student and the organization will experience a quality relationship resulting in a positive outcome for all. As stated in "Mentoring: A Useful Concept for Cooperative Education Programs" (LaBonty, Stull, 1993) "Mentors learn new dimensions of supervision and leadership, and mentoring champions interpersonal growth and gratification for mentors. Literature also suggests that mentors receive recognition from peers and superiors, and their contributions energize feelings of satisfaction and gratitude. Proponents of mentoring encourage managerial development and foresee prevailing long-range benefits--a positive caveat for mentors and the organization."

Appendix E - Selection Guidelines for Hiring Cooperative Education Students

Anticipating a need for employees is not a requirement for participating in the Co-op Program. A student work experience is benefiting your organization in the qualities the students bring to your work place and in developing quality employees for your profession

If you are anticipating openings in the coming year, an approach for determining how many co-op students to recruit is to double the number of anticipated entry-level openings. If you expect two openings, plan a program for four students. From the four involved in your co-op program you may want to offer a position to two upon graduation. Remember, neither the employer nor the student is obligated to offer or accept a position upon completion of the co-op experience.

A Position Available Form is included in this Appendix. When you complete it, give it serious attention. This is the information that is used to recruit students for application. Make the position description as complete as possible, stating the challenges the student is expected to handle, the responsibilities they will carry and the expectations you have of them. Key selection criteria usually includes:

  • Technical capability
  • Team player
  • Communication skills
  • Initiative
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Customer focus
  • Integrity
  • Quality focus
  • Self-confidence
  • Computer skills

Noting the people the student will be working with and any special projects is helpful as well. Be sure you are providing the qualifications you know are necessary for the job and that are likely students will have. Responding to each portion of the form accurately and completely assures successful recruitment for employer and student.

When you return the Position Available Form to the Cooperative Education Office, you may send other marketing brochures or information you have available for us and students to review. The better informed the student applicants are about your organization and product or service, the better employees they will be.

The Cooperative Education Office is always ready to serve you. If you have any questions or would like to discuss student selection or a position you would like to post please call or write.

Appendix F - Tips On Creating A Succesful Cooperative Education Program

There are several preliminary steps you can take to make the most of your student(s):

  • Determine how co-op can contribute to your business mission.
  • Get management's commitment and sponsorship.
  • Determine goals / objectives of your co-op program.
  • Select a work supervisor who possesses:
    • good organization and planning skills
    • enthusiasm and energy
    • knowledge of the organization
    • customer service orientation

Contact Central Washington University's Cooperative Education Office to help determine which academic majors will best fit your needs. The Co-op Office can refer you to individuals in each department who can address your questions about the academic program and the skills the students will possess prior to recruitment.

Recruitment and Selection

To attract the best candidates, plan a campus visit to interview applicants and offer an informational meeting. Increasing student awareness of your organization and the opportunity they have with you through cooperative education will generate greater interest and draw a greater number of candidates and the best qualified. It also gives an opportunity for you to get acquainted with the faculty and those at the Co-op Office who can help direct well qualified students to apply. The Co-op Office can arrange an interview schedule, interviewing rooms and the informational meeting per your request and requirements.

You may wish to invite the final candidates to your office for final interview and see how they feel in the working environment. Most employers develop a candidate evaluation sheet based on the criteria stated in the recruiting information. This helps you with consistency in evaluating each student and prevents omission of important topics.

*Much of the information presented here was developed from "Building a Successful Cooperative Education Program" from The Weyerhaeuser Company. Our thanks to Ms. Debbie Angel, Program Manager Cooperative Education and Intern Program, for her support.

Student / Employee Development

Once on board, the student / employee needs a personal orientation of the physical facility, the work site, other personnel with whom they will be working, resources and other information that will be helpful in making the adjustment from academic to professional work. A quality orientation process will help bring the student to higher productivity more quickly. If possible, provide the student their own work area with access to whatever equipment they may need to achieve the work you have planned for them.

An orientation handbook has been developed by some employers that has been a benefit to the employer and the student. It clarifies and confirms much that usually takes place in conversation. Content may include:

Work schedule and expectations

  • Hours
  • Breaks
  • Time reporting
  • Staff meetings

Compensation and benefits
Company information

  • Mission, vision, goals, objectives, etc.
  • Customers
  • Products and services
  • Organization chart
  • Company culture
  • Communication style
  • Teamwork
  • Business ethics

Policies and procedures

  • Dress code
  • Smoking and alcohol policies
  • Safety procedures
  • Security


  • Secretarial support
  • Phone system
  • Supplies
  • Forms

City information

  • Local map
  • Housing
  • Shopping areas
  • Medical services

The Work Supervisor

The student's work supervisor must be someone who believes in the program, has strong interpersonal skills, and has training experience. The supervisor can help build a successful foundation for the Co-op Program by informing the staff of when the student is expected to arrive and the projects and responsibilities planned to be assigned to them. Information about the student's role and how it relates to the team's goals should be part of the staff orientation to the program. The staff should feel the student is an asset and welcome them as part of the team.

The supervisor must plan ahead for a successful start: Identify the student's responsibilities and project(s), plan a space for the student to use including phone and supplies, and other arrangements to assure a strong start.

Evaluation must be part of the student's position. It is a critical aspect of the co-op program and vital to student growth and success.

Integrating the Student

Be sure the student knows and understands what is expected of them. In the project or position description include key resources (people, library, equipment, etc.) to facilitate competency, productivity and awareness. When your student is assigned multiple tasks, explain their priority. Encourage the student to interview the team members and others with whom they will not be working but may be valuable in learning more about avenues for career development. It is a way to get acquainted more quickly and for the student to learn about the functioning and culture of the business.

It may be appropriate to assign a mentor to the student or for the supervisor to assume the role of a mentor. (See Appendix A, "Supervisor's Guide to Mentoring Cooperative Education Student Employees.") The mentor is a senior member of the group where the student is working who has strong interpersonal and listening skills and who can help the student adjust to the team environment. A mentor helps the student become a valuable contributor to the team more quickly than leaving the student on their own.

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