Lakeland University, Preparing Students to be Part of the Workforce

Lakeland University, located in Plymouth, Wisconsin, started an innovative cooperative education program in 2017, and their results are positive, including an Insight Innovation Award. Lakeland University is the only school in the Midwest fully offering cooperative education, meaning students can work at businesses, get paid, and receive credit at the same time.

The program was spearheaded by President David Black when he returned to the campus early in 2017.  The program ran a pilot in Fall of 2017.  The program implementors were hoping for 50 students to sign up for the cooperative program for the fall of 2018 and much to their surprise and delight, the program attracted 55% of their freshman class, 118 students.  By the fall of 2019, the program had registered 77% of the freshman class, 164 students.  Additionally, the program has resulted in the two largest incoming classes of freshman for the University and has made the campus a 12- month institution.

The first course students take is an on campus, 1-credit class designed to prepare students for work.  The class, Professional Protocol, is about preparing the student to learn how to represent themselves in the professional community.  Students learn how to get up and be at work early (the class is mainly held at 8 am), prepare a resume, learn how to participate in interviews, and develop communication skills. Students then move on to a 1-credit class, Experiential Learning Seminar,  where students develop skills in professional behavior, business etiquette, and protocols of the workplace. This course is repeated each semester while students are enrolled in Cooperative Education Experience. Students may take between one and twelves semester hours of a cooperative. Students receive one credit per 40 hours working (maximum of 12 credits per semester), plus the cooperative is usually paid so the students are earning income.

Students are required to obtain completion of 120 credits to earn a bachelor’s degree; 30 credits can be cooperative education; 90 credits must be classroom based (with about 30 of those credits being general education requirements) and 40-60 of those credits in their majors. Students are not required to have cooperative educational experiences within their majors, yet many are finding opportunities geared toward their future career goals.

The program started with 12 founding companies: Inspire Sheboygan County, Masters Gallery, CliftonLarsonAllen, Schenck, Kohler, United Way of Sheboygan County, Blue Harbor Resort and Conference Center, Johnsonville, Sargento, The Osthoff Resort, Bemis and Sun Graphics Media. However, cooperative opportunities are not limited just to these 12 companies, Lakeland works with its students and interested companies to ensure opportunities and accountability.  The companies and the University work in a collaborative effort to ensure the students get the experience, and the businesses get the assistance they need.  For example, Bemis Manufacturing Company, a producer of plastic products, contacted the University in need of weekend workers.  The University worked with the athletic coaches around practice schedules and got student athletes cooperative opportunities. The University also runs a 24/7 shuttle service ensuring students don’t need their own transportation to participate.  One student is doing graphic design work for two non-profits.  The student wouldn’t have been given enough work with one non-profit, so the University worked it out so the student could split the experience across two non-profits.  

The businesses involved in the cooperative system are now some of the best recruiters for Lakeland University, encouraging employers and family members to apply to the University and the cooperative program. Lakeland’s marketing team is working to attract additional employers and businesses to the program due to the popularity.  The University is excited to see the program’s success and interest but wants to make sure they have enough partnerships with businesses to give all their students solid opportunities.

A bonus, is some companies are offering tuition assistance programs to their cooperative students based on the number of hours they work, allowing students to make a weekly paycheck and get financial assistance from the company to offset tuition.  The University takes the role of financial literacy seriously and requires all students in the cooperative program to meet with the Department of Financial Aid once a semester to evaluate their financial need, discuss financial planning, and encourage students to graduate with as little debt as possible. The Department helps students understand the best possible use of their cooperative paychecks in offsetting tuition and preparing for their future.  Some students are learning, and have started, retirement planning, putting a small amount into a retirement fund during college.  Lakeland University President Black said, “We believe you shouldn’t leave these grounds financially indebted to anyone.”

On Monday, Lakeland University announced its Lakeland Promise, a new program to address student debt by providing qualified Wisconsin students an opportunity to attend Lakeland tuition fee free for four years. Lakeland is the first private university in Wisconsin to offer a free tuition promise program.  Students who are eligible and combine their education with the cooperative education program could, in theory, leave college with money in the bank, a college degree, work experience, and a solid foundation of financial literacy. The program will begin the fall of 2020.

Thank you to David Gallianetti, Sam Poullette and Mara Poullette for taking the time to meet with The Wheeler Report to discuss the Cooperative Education Program.