Co-op Best Practices > Quality in Co-operative Education, Workshop

Quality in Co-operative Education, Workshop

posted on October 6, 1997


On October 6, 1997, CAFCE and the Accreditation Council of CAFCE hosted a workshop on quality in co-operative education. Kate Ross and Bruce Lumsden lead an overview discussion on the characteristics of quality. Approximately 40 participants developed the quality characteristics of co-operative education as seen through the eyes of students, employers, and the institution. The issue of quality in co-operative education is a long standing one, and is best epitomized by the fact that CAFCE has an Accreditation Council, which is responsible for the accreditation of co-op programs in Canada. Inherent in accreditation is the notion of quality.

The concept of quality is as old as the first artisans, who “with hearts and hands” produced products of quality. As a result of industrial revolution, quality came to be seen as a measurement of statistical prediction. It is only in the last 20 years that quality has been enlarged to include consumer research, goal setting, team work, problem solving, human resource management, strategic planning, etc. This has lead into such programs as TQM, ISO, SIGMA 6, etc.

The traditional notion of quality and the measurement of quality is more easily applied to “hard” products but these principles can be applied to “soft” products or services just as well. The literature suggests that there are at least 4 motivating forces behind the desire to have a quality product. These are:

  • survival in the competitive market
  • the escalation of costs of doing business
  • the trend for more accountability
  • the distinction between products and services

Regardless of what the product is, there are some basic underlying principles that are inherent in any discussion on quality. While not an inclusive list the following principle’s¹ are seen as essential.

Principles of Quality

  • A desire to meet or exceed the needs of the customer. To know and to satisfy the customer.
  • Everyone in the organization or unit has a responsibility to engage in the practice of quality. The pursuit of quality is not just the responsibility of a few people.
  • The pursuit of quality is ongoing, continuous. It never stops!
  • Quality requires leadership. A person or a group to spearhead the discussion and practice of quality. To keep quality in the forefront of everyday tasks.
  • Quality is a human resource development. Only people can “practice” quality. People need to be trained, rewarded, and recognized.
  • Quality is in the system, whether they be electronic, paper, oral. The systems we use need to support the notion and practice of quality.
  • Quality is a positive force. People should not operate in a “fear of failure” environment. Problems cannot be solved unless there is first the admission that a problem exists.
  • Quality is teamwork – Quality needs to be practiced across units, departments, and across real or perceived boundaries.
  • Quality needs to be measured. Continuous improvement requires continuous measurement.
  • Quality is systematic problem solving—quality problems cannot be addressed in a random manner. There needs to be proper analysis and a framework to address quality problems.


Two key components of quality were identified for discussion by the participants – the definition of quality as seen through the eyes of the students, the employers and the institutions; and how quality is measured by these three clients/groups. Both definition and measurement are critical to our understanding of quality and to its implementation and practice. The following were the points brought out by the participants:


How do students define quality?

  • There are an appropriate number of positions.
  • The salaries for co-op positions are competitive.
  • The positions offer the opportunity for students to demonstrate initiative, assume responsibility and accountability.
  • The positions are related to the student’s field of study and provide the opportunity for personal and professional development.
  • The positions offer good working conditions and environment.
  • The positions offer the opportunity for networking and potential for permanent employment upon graduation.
  • The work term process is clear, equitable and fair, allowing students the ability to make a choice.
  • That there are clear and well defined expectations and responsibilities for students, the co-op department and the employer.
  • The co-op department provides services that is accessible, affordable (excellent value for fees) and meets their needs.
  • There are excellent communication mechanisms that provide ongoing contact with the co-op department while on and off the campus.
  • There is an appeal process.
  • There is pre-employment training, including assistance with resumes, cover letters, work search and interviewing.
  • There is a process for feedback on performance, including a post-interview process that allows for sharing amongst students.
  • They have opportunity to provide feedback on the co-op process and experience.

How do students measure quality?

  • There is an appropriate number of positions.
  • There co-op position met their expectations.
  • There is a high placement rate or a high number of job opportunities per student ratio.
  • They have achieved their learning objectives.
  • There is a high graduation rate including the number of offers from a co-op employer or contact.
  • There is an employer evaluation for each work term.
  • The salary for positions is competitive.
  • There is a process for feedback on the service.
  • There is a perceived good value vs. cost.


How do employers define quality?

  • The service providers must be flexible in meeting the needs of the employers. This implies customizing and recognizing the individuality of the employer’s needs.
  • Students are properly prepared in various concepts of work before commencing employment.
  • The institution ensures that the interview process between employer and student works well.
  • There is input from the employer into the ranking, and hiring process.
  • The communications between students, employer, and institution, takes place in a variety of ways.
  • It is essential that both employers and students understand the requirements of supervision and monitoring of the work experience. There must be clear expectations of both parties.
  • Students are prepared academically with work skills to that industry’s needs.
  • There are the appropriate number of students for recruitment.
  • Employers receive an adequate number of resumes.
  • The institution has a track record of qualified students and number of jobs posted.
  • The systems of the institution, particularly the electronic systems, are adequate and robust enough to meet the individual needs of the employer.
  • The timing and structure of the work term is flexible to meet the needs of the employer.
  • There are appropriate facilities and equipment available to facilitate the interview process (including parking!!).
  • There is efficient use of the recruiting time.
  • The curriculum of the institution is relevant.
  • The resume system is honest, reliable, and secure.
  • There is an effort to have “one-stop shopping” across the institution to accommodate employers.
  • There is public acknowledgement of the co-op process and to co-op employers.
  • There is co-operation between institutions.
  • There is visible evidence that the institution supports the co-op program.

How do employers measure quality?

  • There are the appropriate number of students for recruitment
  • Employers receive an adequate number of resumes.
  • The institution has a track record of qualified students and number of jobs posted.
  • There is student evaluation of the employment including recommendations to other students.
  • There is a healthy relationship between staff, the office, the co-ordinator and the employer.
  • The immediacy of the service provided.
  • Co-op alumni hire co-op students.
  • There is recruitment potential for permanent employees.
  • There is a fit of academic program and skills.
  • There is an efficient use of time spent on the application/interview process.
  • There are feedback mechanisms in place.
  • There is an effort to build a quality relationship.
  • There are advisory councils.
  • There are employer appreciation nights.
  • There is an assessment of the alumni who graduated from the co-op program.


How do institutions define quality?

  • That co-operative education is cost effective acting as a recruitment tool, increasing students.
  • Retention and providing strong links with business and industry.
  • There are an excellent rate for graduate placement.
  • Employer support is demonstrated through bursaries and donations.
  • There is provincial government support and recognition.
  • The academic programs are relevant and current and responsive to employer feedback.
  • Student performance is high resulting in awards and recognition.
  • The co-op positions are related to the student’s area of study.
  • The co-op personnel are well respected within the institution and the employer community.
  • There is strong support for co-op at senior levels within the institution.
  • The educational value of co-op is recognized and integrated within the educational process of the institution.

 How do institutions measure quality?

  • Employment rates for co-op (number of opportunities/student) and graduation rates are high.
  • The cost per student to the institution is low.
  • Employers are satisfied with the quality of the co-op students and graduates.
  • There are a substantial number of scholarships, bursaries and endowments for co-op students.
  • The number of repeat employers is high.
  • The total wages earned by co-op students is substantial.
  • There is a high level of entrepreneurial activity provided by employer contacts.
  • Faculty and administration demonstrate their support by participating in co-op activities.
  • Students expectations for their work term were met.


We hope that this summary of the workshop is useful for both the participants and especially for those who weren’t there! There are tentative plans to continue the discussion at the August 1998, CAFCE Conference set in Newfoundland.

The issues around quality in education are complex. The practice of quality is a slow, gradual, tedious process. It requires attention to detail and most importantly an attitude that you as an individual have a responsibility to provide – quality service in your work – as an individual, as a team unit, as a co-op department, as an a institution. It is an ongoing task.

¹ These principles were adapted from the book ON Q: Causing Quality in Higher Education, Daniel T Seymour ORYX PRESS 1993

Bruce Lumsden, University of Waterloo
Kate Ross, Camosun College