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Uniting the Ivory Tower and the Smokestack: Co-op Turns 100!


The University of Cincinnati is the global birthplace of cooperative education.  In 1906, 27 engineering students here piloted an uncertain experiment alternating time spent at school with professional work experience.  Now, 100 years and 43 countries later, generations of students worldwide have followed our lead.

Date: 12/29/2005 12:00:00 AM
By: M.B. Reilly
Phone: (513) 556-1824
Photos By: Dottie Stover and provided by UC Archives

UC ingot  

When the previous century was young – in 1906 to be exact – an equally youthful educator at the University of Cincinnati built a tenuous bridge between education’s ivory tower and industry’s smokestack.  He sent 27 untested engineering students into turn-of-the-century mines and mills to see what lessons they’d learn from the paid positions he’d arranged for them.

Half of the original group of co-op students

So, UC began what’s known around the world – in 43 countries at last count – as “Cooperative Education,” a timeless practice of transforming youth to experience. 

Today as we approach the 2005-2006 school year, hundreds of thousands of students studying everything from accounting to urban affairs continue the ever-expanding educational experiment – which was once defined in Webster’s unabridged dictionary as “The Cincinnati Plan.”  Using the classroom as their home base, co-op allows students around the globe to alternate quarters or semesters spent in school with paid, professional experience related directly to their majors, just like those first UC students. These co-op terms are sequential, each one adding ever-advancing layers of professional responsibility linked back to classroom lessons. In other words, co-op means a salary well earned and academics well learned.

Co-op was so closely associated with its founding school and city that the 1934 edition of Webster’s Dictionary defined co-op as the Cincinnati Plan.

As co-op closes in on its 100th birthday year, we’re not blowing smoke about its educational impact and value to employers and communities.  For more on campus centennial celebrations and on co-op itself, check out the links below.