Drexel's Work-Study Mix

The school seeks career-driven students who are enthusiastic about a co-op education program, says Director of Undergraduate Programs Ian Sladen

If the idea of taking classes part of the year and working for the rest appeals to you, Drexel University's LeBow College of Business might be a perfect fit.

The university, located in Philadelphia, has put its own twist on the cooperative education program. Business majors attend classes throughout their freshman year. Then, for the rest of their time at Drexel, they switch back and forth between periods of full-time academic work and full-time employment. Business undergrads can either spend five years in school and participate in three co-ops, or four years with one co-op.

Though co-op is not mandatory for LeBow students, 95% participate. Some other Drexel colleges require co-op enrollment.

Ian Sladen, director of undergraduate programs at LeBow, recently spoke to BusinessWeek.com reporter Julie Gordon. They discussed in more detail the co-op program, what it takes to get into the university, and who succeeds. Here are edited excerpts:

What types of students thrive in a co-op environment?

Drexel is not a "still deciding" kind of university. The students who come here, in particular to the business school, tend to be more career-focused than your traditional college student. No matter how good we are at integrating theory and practice, and communicating with our students, they're going to be physically detached from the university in some way, shape, or form for six months at a time. So the students who are going to persist here are the ones who work to stay engaged.

How can you tell which students are engaged and career-driven during the application process?

You know when you see it. It's a mentality from the beginning. Even students who don't know what functional area of business they're going into are already enamored with the concept of being in business, whether it's running their own business or working for a large corporation. Almost all are able to demonstrate where they fit in that whole scheme and where their niche is going to be.

What questions should students ask themselves when deciding whether to go to Drexel?

No. 1, we're in Philadelphia. So a question students should ask is, "Do I want to live in an urban environment or do I want to live in suburbia with trees and birds and all that wonderful stuff?" The other thing is, "Do I buy into the concept of cooperative education?" (See BusinessWeek.com, 4/26/06, "Work Experience: Two Views.")

How do you integrate theory (classroom) and practice (work experience)?

One of the exciting ways that we've done that is through something that we've integrated into our new curriculum this year. Starting in fall of 2006, every new business freshman started 'MyLIFEfolio' in their introductory courses. Within MyLIFEfolio there are four categories of electronic portfolios—quantitative reasoning, business concentration, writing, and career. Assignments surrounding those skills are uploaded into the portfolio as they relate to the cooperative education experience. So the plan is to have them, for example, defend the career portfolio—show us where they've been, the skills they've picked up. And based on that, what is your career plan? What industry do you plan on working toward? What have you done to get there? And that would be part of their grade in this particular course? So we force them to think about their career.

How do students find co-ops?

When the student is about six to nine months ahead of the co-op cycle, the student begins the process. The student puts his major or concentration, what year he is, and what his co-op cycle is, into the online program and it will actually spit out all the co-op jobs that are in their repository for someone in that category. From there the student would select the 20 jobs he liked the best and rank them, along with submitting a résumé. Employers grant interviews based on credentials.

Do some students not get an offer?

Yes, it does happen, but the co-op placement rate for business students is 97%. So the 3% that don't get jobs typically don't meet the deadlines.

Regarding admissions, what was the average SAT [scholastic aptitude test] score for this year's freshman class?


That is not including the writing portion. Are you looking at it?

It seems like most of the folks in admissions are playing the waiting game. As colleges and universities accrue these stats, they'll figure out where writing actually places students in terms of performance or how it relates to the verbal score. At Drexel, we collect the information but it has not been a driving factor.

What was the average GPA [grade point average]?

About a 3.2, 3.3. But we've seen over time some grade inflation at the high school level (see BusinessWeek.com, 4/19/05, "Grade Inflation: Devaluing B-Schools' Currency"). Twenty years ago, the top 20% of your class had As and Bs. Nowadays, it's 80%. So GPA is important, but you have to take a look at the quality of students that have historically come out of a given high school when considering it.

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