Cooperative Education

Through Cooperative Education, Benedictine is blending the resources of the academic world and the business community to create students who are truly prepared for life.

Academic Achievement. Professional Practice.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q. What is Cooperative Education?
Q. Is this a new approach to higher education?
Q. Why has Benedictine University adopted this approach?
Q. What are the benefits to employers who partner with Benedictine University in Cooperative Education?
Q. What is my role as an employer partner with Benedictine University in Cooperative Education?
Q. Isn’t this the same thing as an internship?
Q. In addition to the Cooperative Education apprenticeship, will Benedictine University continue to offer internships and other work-related opportunities for its students?
Q. At the conclusion of the Cooperative Education student's apprenticeship, am I obligated to hire them full-time?
Q. What is the timeline for participation?
Q. How will my apprentice be selected?
Q. What if the student I hire doesn’t meet my expectations?
Q. How can I talk about this opportunity with other employers in my industry?
Q. How do I indicate my commitment to become an employer partner with Benedictine University in Cooperative Education?

Frequently Asked Legal Questions

Q. What is the nature of the relationship between Benedictine cooperative education student and the employer?
Q. Does the law require an organization to pay Benedictine cooperative education students?
Q. Can Benedictine cooperative education students be classified as independent contractors or volunteers?
Q. Are Benedictine cooperative education students considered employees for purposes of federal discrimination law?
Q. Are Benedictine cooperative education students covered by sexual harassment, ADA, discrimination, and other laws like other employees?
Q. Is a Benedictine cooperative education student entitled to unemployment compensation?
Q. Are Benedictine cooperative education students covered under workers’ compensation?
Q. May Benedictine cooperative education students be required to sign non-compete and nondisclosure agreements?


Q. What is Cooperative Education?

A. Cooperative Education is an educational strategy that blends the resources of the classroom and the business community. A Cooperative Education experience provides students with practical work experience that helps them become stronger students and more valuable employees.

Q. Is this a new approach to higher education?

A. Cooperative Education has actually existed for more than 100 years. In that time, the concept has continued to evolve and become a more developed educational strategy. Now, with much understood about how Cooperative Education benefits students, businesses, and the community, Benedictine is infusing the Cooperative Education approach into the unique Benedictine experience to help its students thrive.

Q. Why has Benedictine University adopted this approach?

A. Benedictine University is passionate about meeting the education needs of its marketplace. Cooperative Education is an approach that makes good sense for students, businesses, and the community. In partnership with the business community, we can attract and develop the talent that businesses – and our community – need to succeed. Cooperative Education is the hallmark of Benedictine’s plan to become a leader in graduating young adults who are prepared for career success and to become vital community members.

Q. What are the benefits to employers who partner with Benedictine University in Cooperative Education?

A. The students participating in Cooperative Education are prepared, motivated, and high-performing. You’ll be able to select from the best and brightest our community has to offer! Employers that participate in Cooperative Education programs around the nation have found it to be an extremely effective pipeline for introducing new talent into their organizations. 

Additionally, participating employers will have significant opportunities to influence the content of our degree programs through their feedback and insights about the contemporary training needs facing their industries. This is a distinct feature of Cooperative Education.

Q. What is my role as an employer partner with Benedictine University in Cooperative Education?

A. As an employer partner, you will mentor a student who is anticipating a career in your firm’s industry. This process begins with interviewing and selecting one of our students to join your organization as a part-time (up to 20 hours/week, but this varies by employer) employee. The employment period will typically last for several semesters until the conclusion of the student’s degree program. This is typically two to four semesters, and during that tenure, you will grow the challenge of their work assignments. Benedictine University’s Office of Cooperative Education will partner with you throughout this process. At the conclusion of the student’s degree program (and throughout their tenure with you), we will ask you to evaluate the student’s performance on the job and the University’s performance in preparing them for work.

Q. Isn’t this the same thing as an internship?

A. No. It is an apprenticeship. Cooperative Education is distinct from an internship in several ways. Benedictine students must meet specific criteria, such as maintaining at least a 3.0 GPA and receiving a faculty nomination, to participate in a Cooperative Education experience. Cooperative Education is structured in a way that creates a unique partnership between employers and the University that leads to higher quality learning and a stronger workforce. Further, we ask employers to provide direct feedback about a student worker’s performance and the content of the classwork that will help a student perform best in their selected field of study.

The Cooperative Education apprenticeship is always a paid position with an employer, always offered with class credit, and spans several semesters of the student’s junior and senior years in college with one employer. Over time, the employer plays an active role in shaping the student’s learning on the job and course content at the University. Internships, however, are often less structured, can be unpaid, offered with or without class credit, and typically last up to one semester as a student explores career options.

Q. In addition to the Cooperative Education apprenticeship, will Benedictine University continue to offer internships and other work-related opportunities for its students?

A. Yes, our commitment to providing an enriching work experience for our students is broad and makes a range of opportunities available.

Q. At the conclusion of the Cooperative Education student's apprenticeship, am I obligated to hire them full-time?

A. No, but many employers find this partnership to be an excellent means of grooming bright, new talent for their organizations. There is no obligation or expectation that you hire the student on a full-time basis following the student’s graduation.

Q. What is the timeline for participation?

A. We have a group of students ready to be interviewed every semester. Employers who wish to be Cooperative Education partners should indicate their intention to do so as soon as possible for this and upcoming semesters.

Q. How will my apprentice be selected?

A. We have screened a select group of students who have demonstrated academic promise and a strong work ethic. We will provide the students' resumes to you for your review and ask you to contact the students directly for interviews. From time to time, based on students' career interests, we may suggest a student for you to interview; however, as their prospective employer, you will make the hiring decision.

Q. What if the student I hire doesn’t meet my expectations?

A. We will work with you to coach the student to a level of performance that meets or exceeds your expectations. If for any reason, you believe the employment relationship is not working, you may terminate the student from employment at any time.

Q. How can I talk about this opportunity with other employers in my industry?

A. We are connected with other universities that are implementing successful Cooperative Education programs. We would be happy to put you in touch with an employer in your industry that participates in one of these programs and can share more about the experience.

Q. How do I indicate my commitment to become an employer partner with Benedictine University in Cooperative Education?

A. To become a Cooperative Education employer partner, contact Brad Warren, Executive Director of Cooperative Education, at 217-718-5302 or bwarren@ben.edu and confirm your interest as soon as possible.

Frequently Asked Legal Questions

Q. What is the nature of the relationship between a Benedictine cooperative education student and the employer partner?

A. For most employers, it is best to assume the students are a type of employee. Why? The fact that the student acts like an employee—performs work like other employees, and is supervised and directed like other employees—is what the courts would be most likely to look at. And this can be true regardless of whether or not the student is paid. If students are employees, then that means they are entitled to the same protections as other employees.

Q. Does the law require an organization to pay Benedictine Cooperative Education students?

A. Yes. The possibility of free labor in the form of cooperative education students may be a tempting one for employers. However, employers must be aware of and ensure compliance with the Fair Labor Standards Act and the Illinois Minimum Wage Law, before classifying a cooperative education student as an unpaid “trainee.” If a cooperative education student is considered an “employee” for purposes of the FLSA or the IMWL, then the employer must pay its cooperative education students at least the Illinois minimum wage.

“Employee” is defined by the Fair Labor Standards Act as “any individual employed by an employer.” Under the FLSA, to “employ” means “to suffer or permit to work.” Since this definition is somewhat circular, the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division developed a six-factor test for determining whether workers are to be considered “trainees” or “employees” under the FLSA. The following is based on this test:

Test Trainee (Not paid) Benedictine Cooperative Education Student (Paid employee)
Type of Training
The training, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to that which would be given in a vocational school. The training approximates that which would be given to any new employee.
Who benefits
The trainee. The employer.
Need for the Work
The trainees do not displace regular employees, but work under close observation Work given to the cooperative education student would be done by other employees in their absence or by others hired to do it.
Impact of Work on Employer
The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the trainees and on occasion the employer's operations may actually be impeded. The employer's position is advantaged due to contribution of the cooperative education student's work.
Prospect of hire
The trainee is usually not offered a job at the completion of the training period. The cooperative education student may be in consideration for full-time employment following the work assignment.
Prior understanding
The employer and the trainee understand that the trainees are not entitled to wages for the time spent in training. The cooperative education student understands they will be compensated for their work.

NOTE: For more information on FLSA and cooperative education students, see  the U.S. Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division Fact Sheet #71: Internship Programs Under The Fair Labor Standards Act.

Q. Can Benedictine cooperative education students be classified as independent contractors or volunteers?

A.. In cooperative education, the employer exercises control over “the result to be accomplished and means and manner by which the result is achieved.” Because of this (although there are some other considerations), the courts are apt to consider the cooperative education student an employee, not an independent contractor. Classifying cooperative education students as “volunteers” is equally problematic. DOL regulations define a “volunteer” as an individual who provides services to a public agency for civic, charitable, or humanitarian reasons without promise or expectation of compensation for services rendered. Because of the nature of cooperative education, student work assignments won’t fit that definition.

Q. Are Benedictine cooperative education students considered employees for purposes of federal discrimination law?

A. Paid cooperative education students would be considered employees for purposes of Illinois and federal discrimination laws. Therefore, covered employers should assume that their paid cooperative education students are employees and comply with applicable discrimination statutes, such as Title VII, the Americans With Disabilities Act, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, and the Illinois Human Rights Act.

Q. Are Benedictine cooperative education students covered by sexual harassment, ADA, discrimination, and other laws like other employees?

A. Yes. Because cooperative education students are deemed to be employees, that means they are protected by the same laws and regulations that protect the organization’s other employees.

Q. Is a Benedictine cooperative education student entitled to unemployment compensation?

A. Student workers are generally not entitled to unemployment compensation after completion of a student employment work experience as the work experience is a temporary assignment which is not covered under Illinois’ unemployment compensation law.

Q. Are Benedictine cooperative education students covered under workers' compensation?

A. If a cooperative education student, who is paid a wage, is injured while on an employer’s premises, his or her sole recovery would be under Illinois’ workers’ compensation statute. Absent such coverage, a cooperative education student can seek compensation for both emotional distress and pain and suffering from the employer, or the educational institution, under general tort remedies, which significantly increase the potential exposure to these entities. 

Q. May Benedictine cooperative education students be required to sign non-compete and nondisclosure agreements?

A. Nondisclosure Agreements: Because cooperative education students are generally provided with unlimited access to an employer’s business, it is not unusual for a company to require cooperative education students to sign a nondisclosure agreement upon the commencement of the work assignment. Employers are generally advised to have cooperative education students sign such agreements to protect their organizations’ interests. Because most cooperative education students have limited, if any, experience in the work force prior to the cooperative education studentship, the impact of the nondisclosure agreement may escape them. Therefore, it is recommended that employers carefully explain the impact and legal ramifications of the nondisclosure agreement to the cooperative education student at the time it is provided.

Non-compete Agreements: Non-compete agreements for cooperative education students are less likely to be enforced because students may not immediately enter the job market after their assignments, may not possess the expertise that regular employees have, and haven’t been employed by one company for an extended period of time or involved in high-level decision making. As a result, courts will be reluctant to bar graduating students from the work force for several years.

*These statements are presented as guidelines in the State of Illinois and should not be taken as professional, legal opinions. Benedictine University at Springfield gratefully acknowledges the permission of the National Association of Colleges and Universities for the use of their resources in the preparation of this document.

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In 2012, nearly 50% of employers who participated in cooperative education made full-time offers to student workers.*

* Source: National Association of Colleges and Employers: “2013 Internship and Co-op Survey Report “

More than 70% of employers who hired student workers had retained them five years later.*

* Source: National Association of Colleges and Employers: “2013 Internship and Co-op Survey Report “

Cooperative Education Employer Partners

Our list of Cooperative Education employer partners continues to grow. Click here to see a current roster.

Bradley J. Warren

Executive Director, Office of Cooperative Education
217-718-5302
bwarren@ben.edu

Benedictine University at Springfield

Brinkerhoff Home 203
1500 North Fifth Street
Springfield, Illinois 62702