Lakeland University has received a $250,000 grant from the Lynde & Harry Bradley Foundation to support its groundbreaking new Cooperative Education Program.
This fall, Lakeland became the first institution of its kind to adopt a cooperative education model, which will help students address the issue of post-graduate debt and respond to employment gaps in Wisconsin's private sector job market.
"Too many students graduate from private colleges and universities with crushing levels of student debt, while lacking the skills desired by the private sector job market," said Lakeland President David Black. "At the same time, in our local Sheboygan County area, the unemployment rate is among the lowest in the state and world-class employers struggle to attract and retain great talent.
"Students enrolling in Lakeland's Cooperative Education Program will find a way to graduate with little or no student debt, while working for these local world-class companies and positioning themselves for long-term post-graduation employment."
Lakeland students will alternate semesters of study with semesters of full-time work experience, gaining academic credit and professional soft skills demanded by employers.
The Bradley Foundation funds will support the continued development of the Cooperative Education Program in Lakeland's School of Business and Entrepreneurship. Dollars will be used to:
- Support the recruitment of qualified students with financial need to participate in the program;
- Support on-campus wages for first-year students with financial need as they begin to develop the professional skills desired by the local job market;
- Support the development and implementation of co-curricular programming for co-op students, including economic and financial literacy, etiquette events, mock interviews and other soft skills.
"We are grateful to the Bradley Foundation for their investment in this significant change in how we will deliver a bachelor's degree," Black said. "Cooperative education will set Lakeland up to be a primary source of talent for this region, and our graduates who choose to settle here will be able to engage in the local economy immediately without debt weighing them down."
Lakeland students will graduate with 12-16 months of full-time, paid professional employment. Students have the opportunity to earn up to 30 academic credits during these experiences.
Lakeland is currently in talks with several major local employers about the Co-op Program and their involvement, and Black anticipates announcing those corporate partners shortly after the holidays.
"In a tight job market like this area is experiencing, this program provides local employers with a new skilled labor force," Black said. "We are adjusting our academic calendar to fit the needs of employers. For example, students working in hospitality management roles will stay in those jobs into October and take seven-week classes for their fall semester."
Students will have the opportunity to apply a significant portion of their wages to their tuition and room and board expenses, allowing many students to graduate debt free.
"The student debt crisis needs to be addressed, and our Co-op Program provides our students with a road map to avoid or minimize post-graduation debt," Black said.
Learn more about Lakeland's Co-op Program at Lakeland.edu/coop.