Lakeland University in Wisconsin has partnered with three award-winning Sheboygan County resorts to address two significant challenges–student debt and a small regional hiring pool. Blue Harbor Resort and Conference Center, Destination Kohler, and The Osthoff Resort have all become partners in Lakeland’s 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. While Lakeland’s goal is to convert all of its bachelor’s program to the co-op model, the institution’s hospitality management program is taking the lead.
Lakeland has adjusted its academic calendar for students who choose to work for one of the three resorts, enabling students to work from May through October. Students can also earn academic credit for their co-op work. In addition, students who work for one of the three employers can live on campus for the summer at a reduced rate and take a free, three-credit course.
“This effort will offer students an opportunity to balance practical work experience with the strong academic curriculum at Lakeland. It is truly a win-win situation for Lakeland, the students, and the employer,” explains David Sanderson, Blue Harbor vice president and general manager. “Several of our department managers are graduates of the program already. I also think for the student, having two years of practical work experience gives them an advantage when entering the workforce full-time post-graduation.”
In addition to giving students working opportunities, the partnership is designed to expand local employers’ hiring pools. Lakeland has supplied Blue Harbor, Kohler, and the Osthoff with seasonal and full-time employees for several years, making expansion of the partnership a natural fit.
“The partnership gives Lakeland a strong recruitment tool to build its hospitality management program,” says Christine Loose, group director of lodging at Kohler Co. “As employers, we have access to a large, dependable source of employees. And Lakeland’s students will earn two to three years of equivalent work experience upon graduation in one of three excellent resorts.”
Lola Roeh, general manager at The Osthoff Resort, said the partnership provides local employers an opportunity to train and grow prospective full-time employees. “If we have people working here in a job or internship and they enjoy our culture and working in this environment and we respect their contribution, we’ve promoted these individuals to management positions,” Roeh explains. “For the Lakeland student, this is an opportunity to sample their choice of study as a future job. They have control over their own destiny because if they enjoy their work, this is a possible entrée to key positions being open to them after graduation.”
Lakeland President David Black said the co-op approach will allow students to better manage their financial situation prior to graduation while earning real-world work experience that will put them ahead of their peers after graduating. Between scholarships and wages, Lakeland co-op students can earn more than $100,000 over their four years. Students will have the opportunity to apply a significant portion of their wages to their tuition, room, and board expenses, allowing many students to graduate debt free.
“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,” Black says. “Lakeland co-op students have the opportunity 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.”
Black explains that the net result of cooperative education is that it will position the university as a primary source of talent for the region. He adds, “Our graduates who choose to settle here will be able to engage in the local economy immediately without debt weighing them down.”