Culture, Tourism and the Centre for Education Statistics: Research Papers

    Graduating in Canada: Profile, Labour Market Outcomes and Student Debt of the Class of 2009-2010 - Revised

    Section 3
    Co-operative education

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    Co-operative education is a recognized way for students of many disciplines to graduate with relevant work experience and avoid the ‘no-experience-no-job’ cycle. There are many perceived benefits associated with co-operative education, including enhanced career decision-making, better workforce integration, assisting with academic learning, and helping students find their first job. Moreover, participation in co-op programs is generally associated with more favourable labour market outcomes.  This section focuses on the profile of co-operative education graduates, their labour market outcomes and relationship to earnings.

    Over one-fifth of college graduates and over one-tenth of bachelor graduates pursued a co-op program

    Despite efforts at increasing co-op programs at Canadian universities,Note 8 the proportion of graduates who took co-op as part of their bachelor degree studies was unchanged compared with 2005 (both at 12%). Over one-fifth (22%) of all college graduates from the Class of 2009-2010 completed a co-op program, which represented a decline from the Class of 2005 where just over one-quarter (26%) of college graduates had completed a co-op program (Appendix table A.18).

    The major field of study groupings with the highest proportions of students who graduated with college co-op diplomas in 2009-2010 were ‘physical and life sciences and technologies’ (33%), ‘architecture, engineering and related technologies’ (28%) and ‘social and behavioural sciences and law’ (27%). Among the minor groupings, ‘legal professions and studies’ (45%),Note 9 ‘science technologies/technicians’(45%) and ‘family and consumer sciences/human sciences’ (30%) had by far the largest proportions of co-op students (Appendix table A.18).

    Fewer bachelors’ graduates completed a co-op program compared with college graduates (12% compared with 22%). The field of study major groupings with the largest proportions of graduates from a co-op program were ‘architecture, engineering and related technologies’ (35%), ‘mathematics, computer and information sciences’ (28%) and ‘business, management and public administration’ (15%).  Among the minor groupings, ‘engineering’ (37%) and ‘natural resources and conservation’ (18%) were the most common among co-op graduates (Appendix table A.18).

    Fewer co-op grads returned to school within three years of graduation compared with non-co-op graduates

    At the college level, 37% of non-co-op graduates pursued further education compared with 30% of co-op graduates. Similarly, at the bachelor level, almost half (49%) of non-co-op graduates returned to school compared with 42% of co-op graduates.

    For those who did enter the workforce, completing a co-op program had benefits to its graduates in the labour market as can be seen in Table 3.1. At the college level, a slightly higher proportion of co-op graduates who had not taken further education in the three years since graduation were employed (92%) compared with 90% of non-co-op college graduates. Moreover, the proportion of graduates that were employed full-time was higher (86%) among those who had completed a co-op program compared with non-co-op college graduates (79%). The proportion of college non-co-op graduates who were employed part-time or out of the labour force was higher compared with college co-op graduates.

    Among bachelor graduates, the benefits of co-op graduation were similarly observed. The difference between co-op and non-co-op graduates was the largest for bachelor graduates in full-time employment, where 90% of co-op graduates were employed full-time compared with 83% of those who had not completed a co-op program during their bachelor degree studies. Non-co-op graduates were more likely to be employed part-time compared with co-op graduates and were also more likely to be unemployed.

    Graduates from co-op programs report better job-education match

    The National Graduates Survey also collected information from graduates on how closely related they feel their job was to their qualification completed in 2009-2010. College co-op graduates were slightly more likely (84%) to report that they found their job to be ‘closely’ or ‘somewhat’ related to their completed educationNote 10 compared with non-co-op graduates (82%).

    Description for chart 3.1

    The proportion of bachelor graduates who reported that they found their job to be ‘closely’ or ‘somewhat’ related to their completed education was considerably higher among those who completed a co-op program (87%) compared with those who had not (80%, Chart 3.1).

    Bachelor graduates with co-operative work experience had higher earnings than other bachelor graduates

    At the college level, the benefit in labour market outcomes for college co-op graduates did not necessarily translate into higher gross annual earnings for most co-op graduates. The median income for college co-op graduates was somewhat lower ($40,600) than for non-co-op graduates ($41,600). Similarly, the earnings of those falling into the 25th percentile were lower among college co-op graduates ($31,200 compared with $33,700). However, the earnings reported of those in the highest income quartile were slightly higher among co-op graduates compared with non-co-op graduates ($56,000 compared with $55,000). Co-op graduates from fields such as ‘business, management and public administration’, and ‘social and behavioural sciences, and law’ (which represent over a third (40%) of all co-op grads at the college level) had lower median earnings than the average college graduate. This distribution by field of study may be impacting the earnings of co-op versus non-co-op graduates at the college level.Note 11 (Chart 3.2)

    Description for chart 3.2

    The earnings profile among bachelor co-op graduates was different than among those at the college level, where bachelor graduates from a co-op program showed higher earnings in every quartile. This difference was highest among those at the 25th percentile where co-op graduates earned $3,200 more annually than non-co-op graduates ($43,200 compared with $40,000).

    Graduates in the three major fields of study that represented over half of all of co-op graduates at the bachelor level (’health’, ‘business’ and ‘architecture and engineering’) earned well above the median earnings overall for bachelor graduates.


    There were benefits for co-op graduates in the labour market. For those who did not pursue further education, both college and bachelor graduates of a co-op program had higher employment rates with the difference between co-op and non-co-op graduates being more pronounced for bachelor graduates. Co-op graduates at both levels also experienced lower unemployment rates and better self reported occupation-to-field-of-study matches. And at the bachelor level, graduates with co-operative work experience had higher earnings than other graduates.


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