Does prior project management work experience have an effect on the academic achievement of university students in the classroom?

Scott W. Kramer, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
Auburn University, Auburn, Alabama

Proceedings of the PMI Research Conference
11-14 July 2004 – London, UK

Construction Management Programs in Higher Education

The construction industry employs roughly five-million Americans and is a diverse, fast-paced, and large segment of the economy. Construction projects, equipment manufacturers, and material suppliers comprise approximately 10% of the GDP (gross domestic product) of the United States (Clough & Sears, 1994). Also, monthly housing starts, along with other construction indexes, are leading economic indicators of the overall health of the economy. The leadership and management of this industry impact the competitiveness of American businesses in the global economy and affect every person in the U.S. to some degree.

Supervision and project management positions in construction have historically been filled by craft workers who worked their way into the roles of superintendents, estimators, and project managers. Until 1945, the management of construction operations was viewed by many as a trade school occupation similar to a carpenter or electrician and was not considered an academic discipline. However, after World War II, there was a large demand for college-educated individuals who could understand engineering and business theory and use this knowledge to build complex construction projects around the world. This demand led to the formation of construction-specific academic programs being established in schools of architecture, technology, engineering, business, and applied sciences at universities throughout the United States (Robson & Bashford, 1995). The construction curriculum in higher education has evolved over the past 50 years and is now a combination of math, science, engineering, business, management, and construction science classes.

This study compared the academic achievement of students who participated in a cooperative education program (co-op students) with the academic achievement of those students who did not participate (nonco-op students). The general hypothesis was that students who gained knowledge through co-op work experience would use that knowledge in subsequent coursework and achieve a higher grade point average (GPA) than students who did not participate in the co-op program. Historical data were analyzed on students (N = 460) who graduated from the building science program at Auburn University from 1996 – 2000. The independent variable was STATUS (co-op vs. nonco-op) and the dependent variable of academic achievement was measured by the GPA of five sequential project management classes.

Background of the Problem

Past research studies have used high school class rank, high school GPA, ACT scores, SAT scores, age, and work experience as predictor variables to determine academic achievement in college students (Beecher & Fischer, 1999; Garton, Dyer, & King, 2000). This study focused on one of these variables that is currently being debated in construction management education, namely work experience (Chapin, Roudebush, & Krone, 1997; Hynds & Smith, 2001; Senior, 1998). The debate focuses not only on work experience, but structured, verifiable, and appropriate construction management work experience (Adcox, 2000; Hauck, Allen, & Rondinelli, 2000).

Many college and university construction programs that belong to the Associated Schools of Construction (ASC) are in favor of some type of mandatory construction work experience as part of their undergraduate curriculum. This work experience usually takes the form of a structured internship or participation in a cooperative education (co-op) program. Several ASC construction programs already require a minimum number of verifiable hours of construction work experience in a structured internship as part of the curriculum (Chapin et al., 1997; Hauck et al., 2000). While none of these programs require co-op participation, the requirement for mandatory construction work experience is growing.

The American Council for Construction Education (ACCE) is the accrediting body for construction programs in higher education. Since 1974, ACCE has accredited 52 baccalaureate degree programs and eight associate degree programs in the United States (ACCE, 2002). As of 2002, ACCE does not require construction management work experience for accreditation. However, many construction industry advisory councils and alumni have supported the idea of making it a required part of construction curricula across the country (Chapin et al., 1997; Hauck et al., 2000; Hynds & Smith, 2001). Of the 52 accredited programs, six programs are generally recognized as the largest in number of faculty, students, and graduates per year. These six are: Arizona State University, Auburn University, Colorado State University, Purdue University, Texas A&M University, and University of Florida (Rosenbaum, Rubin, & Powers, 2001). Of these six, four have some type of mandatory construction work experience requirement for graduation.

Requiring construction management work experience as part of the curriculum may or may not have tangible academic achievement benefits, but implementation of such a requirement will definitely have overhead costs associated with it. Other concerns involve the possibility that internships may become scarce or inappropriate during periods of recession in the construction industry. Also, students will be limited during the internship periods to only construction work opportunities, thus eliminating non-construction work opportunities, volunteering, and taking classes during the summer. Hauck et al. (2000) concluded from their research on Colorado State's mandatory, structured construction internship that “if the purpose is to augment the curriculum, enhance academic learning, and increase the stature of the academic program with the commitment of minimal resources, then implementing an internship program may not deliver the desired results and will not be the best use of those resources” (p. 9).

Rationale for the Study

Throughout the 1990s, the topic of mandatory construction work experience has surfaced several times during Auburn University's semi-annual building science industry advisory council (IAC) meetings. The IAC is comprised of 21 members who are recognized leaders in the construction industry. Many members hold leadership positions within construction trade organizations such as the Associated General Contractors (AGC), Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC), American Institute of Constructors (AIC), and the American Council for Construction Education (ACCE). Auburn's IAC members are typically from the largest construction firms in the southeast and hold positions of vice-president or higher within their respective companies. They recruit college graduates nationally and are familiar with various curricula and requirements of other construction programs.

The IAC has often questioned the building science faculty as to why construction management work experience is not a requirement in the Auburn building science curriculum. They often point out the fact that peer institutions such as Colorado State, Purdue, and Texas A&M have such a requirement. Often, personal perceptions, opinion, and intuition are the overriding factors in the ensuing discussions about this topic. Also, a lack of empirical research to support or reject the idea of mandatory construction work experience is often mentioned.

Building science students can choose to participate in Auburn University's cooperative education program, which provides them with a structured construction management work experience during their academic studies. The Auburn building science faculty point out that approximately 30% of the building science students decide to participate in the cooperative education one of the highest percentages among academic programs on campus. However, does this participation in the co-op program make a difference in the student's academic achievement? Moreover, is there a difference in academic achievement between students who participated in the cooperative education program and those who did not?

Research Question

Was there a difference in academic achievement, as measured by GPA, between co-op students and nonco-op students who graduated from the building science program at Auburn University from 1996 - 2000?

Definition of Terms

Cooperative Education at Auburn University – The student must have a minimum cumulative GPA of 2.20 to be accepted into the co-op program. Co-op employers regularly interview on campus to fill co-op positions within their companies that match students’ academic and career goals. The co-op student follows a formalized plan for the alternation of full-time classroom study with periods of full-time work experience. The co-op program involves a minimum of four quarters of professional work experience. Also, documentation concerning student participation, student progress, employer evaluation of the student, and student evaluation of each work experience is maintained.

Cooperative Education Students (co-op) – Building science students who participated in the cooperative education program administered by Auburn University from fall quarter 1994 – summer quarter 2000.

Non-cooperative Education Students (nonco-op) – Building science students who did not participate in the cooperative education program administered by Auburn University from fall quarter 1994 – summer quarter 2000.

Student Status (STATUS) – The student will be classified as co-op or nonco-op. This is the independent variable for the study.

Grade Point Average (GPA) – Calculated by dividing the total grade points by the total number of credits attempted. Grade points for this study are: A = 4.0, B = 3.0, C = 2.0, D = 1.0, and F = 0.0. Therefore, if a student earns an A, B, C, and D respectively in four different classes during the quarter, the student's GPA would be calculated as follows: GPA = [(4.0 + 3.0 + 2.0 + 1.0) X 3 credits per class] / (3 credits per class X 4 classes) = 2.50

Acceptance into the Building Science Program – The student's classification was changed from pre-building science (1st and 2nd year) to building science (3rd year). Entrance into the program was competitive and was based solely on the student's cumulative GPA after all pre-requisite classes were completed. This typically took place at the end of the student's 2nd year of prebuilding science classes. Only 24 students were accepted into the building science program per quarter therefore, 96 students matriculated from pre-building science to building science per year. During the 1990s there were approximately twice as many pre-building science students applying for admission as were accepted.

Acceptance GPA (AGPA) – The student's cumulative GPA (after completing all prerequisite classes in the pre-building science curriculum) at the time the student was accepted into the building science program on a competitive basis. The acceptance GPA is computed by dividing the total grade points by the total number of credits attempted at Auburn University. This baseline variable, measuring initial academic achievement at the time the student was accepted into the building science program, was used to create four homogeneous groups of students.

  • Group 1 (G1) – This group consists of students who had an acceptance GPA (AGPA) between 2.20 and 2.49.
  • Group 2 (G2) – This group consists of students who had an acceptance GPA (AGPA) between 2.50 and 2.99.
  • Group 3 (G3) – This group consists of students who had an acceptance GPA (AGPA) between 3.00 and 3.49.
  • Group 4 (G4) – This group consists of students who had an acceptance GPA (AGPA) between 3.50 and 4.00.

Project Management GPA (PM GPA) – The student's GPA based on five sequential project management courses: estimating I, estimating II, construction scheduling, project management, and contracting business. The building science PM GPA is computed by dividing the student's total grade points by the total number of building science project management class credits attempted. This is the dependent variable measuring academic achievement for the study.

Population – All students who were accepted into the building science program beginning fall quarter 1994 through the end of summer quarter 1999 and graduated from Auburn University with a building science degree by the end of summer quarter 2000.

Hypotheses

Was there a difference in academic achievement, as measured by GPA, between co-op students and nonco-op students who graduated from the building science program at Auburn University from 1996 to 2000? The following null hypotheses were developed for this study and a .05 level of significance was used based on previous studies done in this field (Appelt, 1991; Burton, 2000; Hauck et al., 2000; Ullrich, 1988).

Null hypotheses 1 through 4 investigated the difference between co-op students’ and nonco-op students’ PM GPA within the four homogeneous baseline groups G1 through G4.

  • Hypothesis 1: There is no difference in the mean scores within group G1, as measured by PM GPA, between co-op students and nonco-op students at the .05 level of significance.
  • Hypothesis 2: There is no difference in the mean scores within group G2, as measured by PM GPA, between co-op students and nonco-op students at the .05 level of significance.
  • Hypothesis 3: There is no difference in the mean scores within group G3, as measured by PM GPA, between co-op students and nonco-op students at the .05 level of significance.
  • Hypothesis 4: There is no difference in the mean scores within group G4, as measured by PM GPA, between co-op students and nonco-op students at the .05 level of significance.

Significance of the Study

The question of whether or not to require construction management work experience as part of the curriculum is an important issue facing the building science faculty at Auburn University and construction programs at other universities throughout the United States. There are several costs to be considered. Faculty and administrators will have to weigh the cost of time and money against the benefits that would result from such a requirement. Hauck et al. (2000) have questioned the use of limited resources to implement a mandatory work experience component into the construction curriculum if the only goal is to enhance academic learning. Also, another important aspect of this decision is the tangible and intangible costs to the student. Implementing such a requirement should be made after careful consideration.

Literature Review

Introduction

The focus of this study was to compare the academic achievement of building science students at Auburn University who participated in a cooperative education program with the academic achievement of those students who did not participate. Cooperative education research is a relatively young field with empirical studies starting in the 1960s (Lyons & Hunt, 1961; Smith, 1965). While the academic benefits of participating in cooperative education may seem obvious to some, researchers have conducted numerous studies over the past 40 years in an effort to describe, quantify, and provide evidence of such benefits.

Cooperative Education and Academic Achievement

In 1906, Dean Herman Schneider pioneered a revolutionary concept, within the College of Engineering at the University of Cincinnati, that he called cooperative education (University of Cincinnati, 2002). Starting with 27 engineering students and 13 local employers, Dean Schneider created a program that alternated full-time academic study with full-time work experience. Schneider envisioned an educational system that combined work experience with classroom content to improve the knowledge and skills of engineering students (University of Cincinnati, 2002). The National Commission for Cooperative Education defines cooperative education as “a structured educational strategy integrating classroom studies with learning through productive work experiences in a field related to a student's academic or career goals” (Co-op Model, 2002, para. 2). Approximately 200,000 students annually participate in cooperative education programs at nearly 900 colleges and universities (Hutcheson, 1999). As a testament to Dean Schneider's 1906 concept, the American Society for Engineering Education chose cooperative education as one of the ten outstanding engineering education and engineering technology achievements of the past century (Burnet & Greisch, 1994).

Chapin, Roudebush, and Krone (1997) conducted a survey concerning the use of cooperative education within the 88 member schools of the Associated Schools of Construction. In this study, the definition of cooperative education also included internships and work-study programs. A major finding of the study was that 91% of the schools had some type of co-op program and that a majority of the schools (58%) required this experience in their curricula (Chapin et al., 1997). For the schools where the co-op program was voluntary, an average of 32% of the students chose to participate. While the benefits of cooperative education in this study were descriptive, opinion-based, and self-reported by faculty, co-op administrators, and department heads, some of the written comments from the questionnaire found in the appendix give a clue as to what construction educators believed about students’ co-op experience:

  • Students come back more motivated.
  • Most demonstrate improved classroom performance as a result of the experience.
  • Changes the quality of the performance in capstone course required at the end of the senior year.
  • Provides direction to student. Helps motivate students when returning to classroom.
  • When the experiences provide responsibility, the student matures in his discipline.
  • Brings relevance to the students’ classes.
  • Students familiarize themselves with real-life situations. Tests reflect such situations. All curriculum tests reflect practical applications.
  • Employers offer higher salaries to graduates with real experience.
  • Graduates with co-op experience obtained higher entry-level salaries and were promoted much faster (Chapin et al., 1997, pp. 114-116).

These claims are based on anecdotal evidence because of the lack of empirical studies involving construction students and co-op education. However, many of these comments from construction educators reflect the same benefits that cooperative education researchers have studied over the years: (1) career maturity (Bono, 1995; Gadzera, 1988; Tinder, 1992), (2) higher starting salaries for graduates (Crusoe, 1993; Gardner & Motschenbacher, 1997), (3) academic achievement (Burgess, 1985; Burton, 2000; Davie & Russell, 1974; Smith, 1965), (4) initial employment (Brown, 1984; Owen, 2000; Thomsen, 1997; Wagner, 1992), and (5) motivation (Kerka, 1989).

In their review of cooperative education literature, Ricks, Cutt, Branton, Loken, and Van Gyn (1993) took a critical look at previous cooperative education research studies. Ricks et al. (1993) stated that:

The cooperative education literature tends to demonstrate what is believed about cooperative education that is similarly defined, rather than what has been substantiated in cooperative education research. The literature contains many assertions, and sometimes postulates, that have not yet been adequately tested (p.11).

Therefore, when reviewing the literature about academic benefits associated with participation in a cooperative education program we are not surprised to find contradictory results and conclusions from four decades of research. Many empirical studies were conducted without taking into consideration initial differences between co-op students and nonco-op students when measuring outcomes after co-op participation (Ricks et al, 1993).

Methodology

Study Design

This study utilized a causal-comparative research design because the researcher did not have direct control over the independent variable. According to Ary, Jacobs, and Razavieh (1996), causal-comparative design is defined as ex post facto, Latin for from after the fact. This research was conducted after variation in the independent variable STATUS (co-op vs. nonco-op) was already determined in the natural course of events.

To help alleviate internal and external validity concerns from past research, this study looked at a very narrow, structured, and definable classification of work experience available to students: specifically, experience gained by building science students who participated in the cooperative education program at Auburn University versus building science students who did not participate. This narrower classification of work experience allowed for a longer treatment effect, four quarters of co-op experience versus 10 weeks of internship experience in the Hauck et al. (2000) study. The population for this study was larger than the Hauck et al. study, using 460 students versus 149. Finally, the time period for the treatment to take effect was two years versus one semester immediately after a summer internship in the Hauck et al. study.

Variables

This study used historical student data to measure differences in academic achievement between co-op students and nonco-op students. The independent variable was STATUS (co-op vs. nonco-op) and the dependent variable, academic achievement, was PM GPA (GPA of five sequential project management classes). In addition, a baseline measurement variable of academic achievement was conceptualized to categorize the students into homogenous groups based on their cumulative grade point average when they were accepted into the building science program, AGPA.

Typically the three entry points for new graduates in a construction firm are: (1) junior estimator (2) assistant project manager, and (3) assistant superintendent. If possible, co-op students working for a construction firm are rotated among these three positions in order to give the student a flavor of the work that the company does and the way that they do it. The co-op student would be exposed to professional practice among these three positions during the co-op work experience. It was hypothesized that this exposure to professional practice in the construction industry would have an effect on the project management classes (PM GPA) in the curriculum. Also, grouping these five project management classes together provided a chance for co-op work experience to have an effect on a narrow set of classes, rather than getting lost in the total coursework credits that are used to calculate the student's graduation GPA.

A baseline measurement variable of academic achievement, AGPA, was created to categorize the students into homogenous groups in order to minimize the main threat to the study's internal validity namely, groups that are not comparable. The participants were categorized into four homogenous groups based on their grade point average at the time they were accepted into the building science program (AGPA). The four groups were: G1 (2.20 – 2.49), G2 (2.50 – 2.99), G3 (3.00 – 3.49), and G4 (3.50 – 4.00). This variable was created by calculating the student's cumulative GPA (after completing all pre-requisite classes in the pre-building science curriculum) at the time the student was accepted into the building science program.

Study Participants

Auburn University

Auburn University, founded in 1856, is a state-supported land grant university located in Auburn, Alabama. The university is divided into fourteen colleges and has a total student population of approximately 23,000. The building science department was established in 1946 and is located within the College of Architecture, Design, and Construction. The academic year, during the time frame of this study, was divided into four 10-week quarters: fall, winter, spring, and summer.

Auburn University changed from a quarter-based class structure to a semester-based structure beginning in the fall of 2000. Therefore, the use of GPA data after the summer of 2000 would be inappropriate in comparisons of academic achievement. Also, a statistical power analysis using a significance level of .05 yielded an optimum sample size of 400 students. Therefore, the time frame for identifying the population began with students admitted into the building science program fall quarter 1994 and ended with the summer quarter 1999. This time frame allowed for the collection of students’ GPA through the summer of 2000.

Selection of Participants

This study utilized building science student data obtained from the Student Services Office within Auburn University's College of Architecture, Design, and Construction. The population consisted of students who were accepted into the building science program beginning fall quarter 1994 through summer quarter 1999 and graduated from Auburn University with a building science degree by the end of summer quarter 2000. Data were collected from fall quarter 1994 through the end of summer quarter 2000. In addition, students’ cumulative GPAs when accepted into the building science program were collected as a baseline measurement of academic achievement.

Results

Population and Sample

The initial data set provided by the College of Architecture, Design, and Construction's Student Services Office consisted of 501 students. These students were accepted into the building science program beginning fall quarter 1994 through the end of summer quarter 1999. Twenty-two students who were accepted into the building science program but who did not graduate from Auburn University with a building science degree by the end of summer quarter 2000 were excluded. Of the 22 students excluded, 3 were co-op students and 19 were nonco-op students. This exclusion was necessary because the dependent variable PM GPA could not be calculated.

Auburn University's cooperative education department required a minimum GPA of 2.20 for acceptance into the co-op program. Another 19 nonco-op students with a GPA below 2.20 were excluded from the data set. This exclusion was necessary to minimize threats to internal validity in the form of initial differences in academic achievement between co-op and nonco-op students.

The final data set consisted of 460 building science students. Of the 460 students, 143 participated in the cooperative education program and 317 did not. The data for each student consisted of: STATUS (co-op vs. nonco-op), AGPA (cumulative GPA at time of acceptance), and PM GPA (GPA of five sequential project management building science classes).

Initial Differences in Acceptance GPA

In order to minimize the difference in initial academic achievement between co-op students and nonco-op students, the participants were categorized into four groups based on their grade point average at the time they were accepted into the building science program. The four groups were classified according to a range of AGPA scores: G1 (2.20 – 2.49), G2 (2.50 – 2.99), G3 (3.00 – 3.49), and G4 (3.50 – 4.00). A t-test procedure was performed on each of the four groups to determine if there was a significant difference between co-op students’ and nonco-op students’ mean scores. The results are listed in Exhibit 1.

AGPA means for groups G1, G2, G3, and G4 according to STATUS

Exhibit 1. AGPA means for groups G1, G2, G3, and G4 according to STATUS

There was no statistical difference, at the .05 level, between co-op students’ and nonco-cop students’ mean scores of AGPA within each of the four groups. Therefore, the statistical analysis supports the study design of grouping the students according to their AGPA to establish a baseline in which to perform future comparisons based on dependent variables of academic achievement.

Hypotheses 1 through 4

An analysis of variance (ANOVA) procedure was performed on the participant data and determined that PM GPA means for co-ops (3.05) and nonco-ops (2.88), within group G2, were significantly different (F = 5.894, p = 0.0161) at the .05 level of significance (see Exhibit 2). The significant difference can be seen graphically in Exhibit 3. The application of a second ANOVA procedure determined that PM GPA means for co-ops (3.45) and nonco-ops (3.27), within group G3, were significantly different (F = 5.274, p = 0.0238) at the .05 level of significance (see Exhibit 2). The significant difference can be seen graphically in Exhibit 4. The PM GPA means for co-ops and nonco-ops, within the other two groups: G1 and G4 were not significantly different at the .05 level of significance (see Exhibit 2).

PM GPA means for the groups G1, G2, G3, and G4 according to STATUS

Exhibit 2. PM GPA means for the groups G1, G2, G3, and G4 according to STATUS

Within group G2: Mean scores of PM GPA and AGPA according to STATUS

Exhibit 3. Within group G2: Mean scores of PM GPA and AGPA according to STATUS

Within group G3: Mean scores of PM GPA and AGPA according to STATUS

Exhibit 4. Within group G3: Mean scores of PM GPA and AGPA according to STATUS

The results of the statistical analysis for hypotheses 1 through 4 are as follows:

  • Null hypothesis 1 cannot be rejected: This study does not provide evidence that there is a difference in the mean scores within group G1, as measured by building science PM GPA, between co-op students and nonco-op students at the .05 level of significance.
  • Null hypothesis 2 is rejected: This study provides evidence that there is a difference in the mean scores within group G2, as measured by building science PM GPA, between co-op students and nonco-op students at the .05 level of significance.
  • Null hypothesis 3 is rejected: This study provides evidence that there is a difference in the mean scores within group G3, as measured by building science PM GPA, between co-op students and nonco-op students at the .05 level of significance.
  • Null hypothesis 4 cannot be rejected: This study does not provide evidence that there is a difference in the mean scores within group G4, as measured by building science PM GPA, between co-op students and nonco-op students at the .05 level of significance.

Conclusions and Recommendations

Summary

The focus of this study was to compare the academic achievement of building science students at Auburn University who participated in a cooperative education program with the academic achievement of those students who did not participate. The general hypothesis was that students who gained knowledge through co-op work experience would use that knowledge in subsequent coursework and achieve higher academic achievement than students who did not participate in the co-op program. Previous researchers (Appelt, 1991; Burgess, 1985; Burton, 2000) used graduation GPA to measure academic achievement between co-op students and nonco-op students or analyzed individual class grades for courses within the students’ major. However, this study used the dependent variable PM GPA (GPA of five project management classes). Also, this study chose one specific academic program, building science, versus several programs such as mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, civil engineering, and chemical engineering grouped together to form a sample of engineering students. Finally, this study categorized students into four homogenous groups to minimize initial differences in academic achievement.

Conclusions

Co-op Participation and GPA in Project Management Classes

There was a significant difference between co-op students’ and nonco-op students’ PM GPA mean scores for two of the four groups. Interestingly, the co-op participation did not have an effect on group G1, comprised of the lowest range of AGPA scores (2.20 to 2.49), nor group G4, with the highest range of AGPA scores (3.50 to 4.00). The co-op participation did have an effect on the two groups in between the highest and lowest ranges: G2 (2.50 to 2.99) and G3 (3.00 to 3.49). The results seem to suggest that the treatment, co-op participation, did not have an effect on the weakest academic group G1 nor the strongest academic group G4, but rather affected the two groups in between, G2 and G3. The students in group G4 were high academic achievers before they entered the building science program and typically would have been high academic achievers in their coursework whether they participated in the co-op program or not. Conversely, the students in group G1 were low academic achievers before they entered the building science program. These students may have had a much harder time grasping the academic content of the five project management classes and therefore, the co-op participation did not have a large enough influence on their GPAs to be significant. While the co-op students in groups G1 and G4 had higher PM GPA mean scores than the nonco-op students, the difference was not significant.

Limitations of the Study

There are several factors in addition to co-op status that could have had an effect on the students’ academic achievement. These factors include: marital status, non-relevant co-op work experience, age when accepted into the building science program, maturation, co-op students studying with nonco-op students, and prior construction work experience. Also, the co-op students did not begin the treatment (co-op participation) at the same time that they were accepted into the building science program. Finally, the knowledge gained during the students’ co-op work experience may not have been directly relevant to the coursework content taught in the building science curriculum.

There is another limitation to this study that also needs to be mentioned. The general hypothesis of this study is that co-op work experience enables the students to grasp academic concepts in construction education faster and easier because they might have already experienced the concepts in professional practice. This work experience in turn affects the co-op student's academic achievement. However, this hypothesis implies that construction education mirrors industry practice and that there is a direct linkage between work activities in professional practice and classroom content. In fact, it may be that educators are not teaching what the construction companies actually do in professional management to stay profitable in a fast-paced, changing, and risky business environment.

Implications

Co-op participation did have a significant effect on some co-op students’ academic achievement in the five project management classes. Based on the results of this study, should the Auburn University building science faculty require mandatory co-op participation for students in the building science curriculum? There are many factors to be considered by the faculty and administration before such a requirement is enacted. Even if the only consideration for change is the potential for increased academic achievement among all building science students, the evidence from this study does not support such a drastic curriculum change.

There are many reasons for students to participate in a cooperative education program. The National Commission for Cooperative Education (NCCE, 2002) cites the following student benefits:

  • Enhances classroom learning by integrating academic curriculum and real-world work experience.
  • Confirms or redirects career decision-making through on-the-job experience in a chosen field.
  • Enhances affordability of college through employer-paid wages. This is a means of financial assistance that is available to all students, regardless of family income levels or other aid arrangements.
  • Improves job opportunities after graduation by giving students valuable work experience and contact with potential future employers.
  • Teaches valuable job-search skills such as career assessment, resume writing and interviewing techniques.
  • Encourages completion of college for all students – from top performers to traditionally non-college-bound students by linking school to work and by providing access to co-op earnings.

Past researchers (Bono, 1995; Bromley, 1993; Gadzera, 1988; Gardner, 1992; Jagacinski, 1986; Maciorowski, 1996; Owen, 2000; Tinder, 1992) have found positive relationships between participating in a cooperative education program and non-academic achievement variables such as: maturity, self-esteem, problem-solving skills, personality traits, initial employment after graduation, higher starting salaries, and perceived personal development. While these variables could be considered student benefits received from participating in a cooperative education program, they do not translate into the most-often-cited benefit proposed by advocates of cooperative education – enhanced academic learning. If enhanced academic learning is taken to mean improved academic achievement, then there is no evidence from this study to suggest that students who participate in a co-op program will improve their academic achievement in classes across the curriculum. At best, classes in which the course content is directly related to co-op work experience may be significantly affected.

Recommendations for Future Research

Future research should begin by replicating this study with other ACCE-accredited construction programs that support cooperative education. The methodology of this study was specifically designed so that other construction programs could group their respective classes together to create a PM GPA dependent variable. Replication of this study could confirm its conclusions or provide evidence that the results were specific to Auburn University.

In addition to the dependent variable used in this study, future researchers could use the American Institute of Constructors’ (AIC, 2002) Certified Professional Constructor (CPC) exam as a dependent variable. Many ACCE-accredited construction programs are requiring their students to take the CPC exam before graduating and are using the exam as a curriculum-outcomes assessment tool. If the data are available, differences between co-op students’ and nonco-op students’ scores on the CPC exam could be analyzed for statistical significance.

Because a relationship has been established in this study between academic achievement and participation in a cooperative education program, future research should include a correlation study. The advantage of using a correlational design is that it provides information concerning the degree or strength of the relationship between the variables studied. In addition, a correlational design allows the researcher to analyze the relationships among a large number of variables in a single study (Gall, Borg, & Gall, 1996). Therefore, other variables that might influence academic achievement -- marital status, maturation, and prior work experience -- can be analyzed in combination with STATUS (co-op student vs. nonco-op student). The results of a correlation study could be used to create a predictor model consisting of variables or combinations of variables that have an effect on academic achievement in an ACCE-accredited construction program.

Requiring construction management work experience as a mandatory part of the curriculum is an important issue facing not only the building science faculty at Auburn University, but also construction faculty and project management faculty at other universities. Hopefully the results of this study can be used in curriculum planning and administration decisions among other academic programs throughout the United States.

ACCE. (2002, August 12). American Council for Construction Education. Retrieved August 30, 2002, from http://www.acce-hq.org

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