College suspension creates Co-op quandry

Limited opening hours at the library, closed administrative buildings and overall “continental” meals at the caf stand out among the direct results of the downscaling of operations at Antioch College following the announcement that the school would close by June 2008. Less prominent in current community discussion, the co-op office too is taking hits that will take rebuilding if efforts to keep Antioch open are successful.
Over the past five years, the numbers of Antioch students employed across the country and abroad through the co-op office varied between 200 and 300 per semester. Now the number is less than 30 students.
With the pending closure of the college, student’s priorities have changed. Where the chance to work a term on an organic farm or assist a congress person on Capitol Hill would make upperclassmen pack their bags for New Zealand or Washington D.C, they are now concerned with graduating, having a more transferrable repertoire of classes, or they simply want to experience one more year of community life on campus. Although some schools can transfer co-ops into four to eight academic credits or a vocational internship, in many colleges they are not easily equated into the curriculum. Thus, most students decline the unique opportunity.
The decrease of co-oping students creates a problem for the colleges Co-op office, that in the current model has contractual obligations to the majority of employers featured on the list of annual job offerings. What happens now to all of the Co-op employers, communities, and students who would have normally taken part in the co-op program?
The immediate reaction of co-op employers to Antioch’s closure varied, said Eric Miller, Assistant Professor of Co-operative education and alumnus of the college. “Some simply hired the next volunteer on the waiting list, some expressed deep hurt and shock,” Miller recalls from his interactions with employers over the last two months. “Others decided to tentatively wait to see what will happen. This is the group we really need to encourage to stick with us because they’re the most flexible.”
Regardless of the adaptability of some employers, with just upwards of 30 students willing to fill positions on the current job list, it is likely the co-op office will lose co-op employers in the short run. Many employers are not overly dependent on Antioch, according to Miller, “but some full-time employers are always waiting for the next Antiochian to come along.”
For those who are just one co-op away from graduation, the college has decided to allow a pre-Antioch job experience to count as a co-op credit, and is also offering a limited co-op term next fall.
“If I have anything to say,” advises Miller, “it would be to stay optimistic – there are many Co-op employers who are doing more than just crossing their fingers, as am I, so we may all have another chance for a co-op.”