Co-op Fee Review: Phase 1 Final Report Summary

Project sponsored by: Co-operative Education and the Federation of Students
Prepared by: Co-op Fee Comprehensive Review Project Team
Last updated: October 2018

Introduction & Background

Co-op Fee Comprehensive Review Project

Based on conversations with representatives from student societies and the Federation of Students (Feds), Co-operative Education recognized the need to lead a comprehensive review of the co-op fee. In early 2017, discussions began to start this project and it was officially launched in July 2017. Students wanted to better understand the purpose and scope of the co-op fee enabled the project team to focus on key concerns and implement some recommendations (

The Co-operative Education (CE) department and the Federation of Students (Feds) are partners on this initiative. The project scope aims to:

  • Create guiding principles for the fee expenditure model
  • Develop an engagement process for all stakeholders as the fee recommendation is being prepared each year
  • Find ways to increase transparency about how the co-op fee funds are spent
  • Identify recommendations for determining and assessing fees
  • Set defined deliverables for improvement, working within the pathways of approval at the University

This Comprehensive Review Project has been divided into four distinct phases:

Co-op Fee Review project phases

This summary was produced with numbers from the 2017/18 fiscal year. A breakdown of the current co-op fee is available on the co-op fee project website. This report summarizes the findings from Phase 1- Current State Analysis, provide a summary of the student consultations, review the findings and indicate the next steps which will be Phase 2 of this initiative. This report is now being shared with the Co-operative Education Council as the overall summary to demarcate the end of Phase 1 and transition to Phase 2.

Here are the goals for Phase 1 that frame this report:

  • Understand and document the current regulatory environment for co-operative education in Canada
  • Understand the current structure of the University of Waterloo’s co-op fee
  • Understand CE’s current funding sources
  • Produce a summary of the co-op fee model using current financial data
  • Form preliminary documentation of issues within the current state

Current Regulatory Environment for Co-operative Education in Canada

The Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities (MTCU) is responsible for the administration of laws relating to post-secondary education and skills training. At the University of Waterloo, the Department of Institutional Analysis and Planning (IAP) ensures we abide by these regulations. 

Co-operative Education programs in Canada are accredited by Co-operative Education and Work-Integrated Learning Canada (CEWIL Canada). Accreditation standards were developed to establish co-op as a pedagogical framework and to provide leadership in ensuring consistency and quality in co-op programming across Canada.

Co-op fees at the University of Waterloo

Co-op fees charged to co-op students are not related to the services received in any one term, but represent the cost of providing these services over the course of their co-op degree. The fees are paid over a number of academic terms in order to keep each fee payment as moderate as possible.

Undergraduate co-op fees

Depending on the student’s program of study, the fee is assessed and charged beginning one or two academic terms prior to the student’s first work term. The fee continues to be charged to the student every subsequent academic term from the first time they’re assessed the co-op fee up to, and including, the student’s last academic term.  

A student’s co-op fee in an undergraduate co-op program is assessed between five and eight times, depending on their specific program. With the co-op fee currently set at $729 (for the 2018/19 fiscal year) an undergrad co-op student could pay anywhere between $3,645 and $5,832 in total co-op fees throughout their entire co-op undergraduate career. Further detail may be found in Appendix C in the full report.

Graduate co-op program fees

The philosophy and practice of assessing co-op fees at the graduate student level is inconsistent with that at the undergraduate student level. While undergraduate students pay co-op fees as a program participation fee, graduate program co-op fees are assessed when a grad student secures a co-op job (resulting in the appearance as a “fee for service” philosophy). Student feedback indicates that this is seen as undergraduates subsidizing co-op for graduates. In 2018, graduate students accounted for 1.4% of all work terms. 

Communications about the co-op fee

A very brief description of the co-op fee is posted on the University website and minimal detail is public. This project was initiated, in part, due to student feedback asking for more detail, clarity and transparency. As part of this project, a webpage was set up to better explain the co-op fee and what the fee funds. Work has also begun across the campus to review and improve communications about the co-op fee in the recruitment and admissions material for prospective co-op students.  

Revenue from Co-op Fees

The budget allocated to Co-operative Education for the current year is based on actual fees collected in the previous year, it is referred to as a “slip year” budget. Eighty per cent of the previous year’s actual revenue becomes the current year’s budget to support Co-operative Education.   

For example, the budget presented to the Board of Governors April 4, 2017 indicated a co-op fee recovery of $18.9 million for the 2016/17 fiscal year. This amount would be allocated for the 2017/18 fiscal year as:

  • 20% to central university costs (staff benefits plan, technology costs and occupancy in the building)
  • 70% to CE salaries
  • 10% to CE non-salary expenses  

However, the estimate of co-op fee recovered funds is published before the year-end results are finalized. A final number is not known until Finance completes the year-end close until Spring term.

For the seven-year period between 2011/12 - 2017/18, the fee has increased from $584 per term to $709 per term, a cumulative increase 21.4%. (A breakdown of the 2018/2019 fee is posted on our website.)

Historical fee amounts were documented and compared to other fees on campus such as the Student Services Fee (a non-refundable fee assessed to all full time and undergraduate students). For the same period as above (2011/12 - 2017/18), the full-time undergraduate Student Services Fee has increased from $133 per term to $162 per term, a cumulative increase of 21.8%.

Co-op Fee Covered Costs & Expenses

Analysis of co-op fee cost/expense allocation

Co-op fees cover the co-op employment process, student advising, programming, resource development, employer relationship management, faculty and institutional relations, new job development, infrastructure and administration and some university central costs such as building maintenance.

To determine the costs spent on each of these services, every role and expense funded by student co-op fees was taken into account and sorted into seven distinct categories of work/costs to convey how much of the co-op fee supports each work category.

The budget number of $18.9 million reflects the actual co-op fees collected during fiscal May 1, 2016 to April 30, 2017.

Figure 1. Allocation of co-op fee ($, in millions)

Co-op fee in millions

Of the $18.9 million total co-op fee budget, $13.0 million (or 70%) is attributed to salaries, $2.1 million (or 10%) is attributed to direct non-salary expenses and the remaining $3.8 million (or 20%) is attributed to indirect university central costs.

These same details can also be translated into a second visual that highlights the breakdown of a single $709 co-op fee.

Figure 2. Allocation of the co-op fee (in dollars)

Your co-op fee in dollars

Relationship Between Cost Drivers and Staff Headcounts

The growth of co-op students was compared to the growth in three key roles representing 57% of the total FTE headcount: staff supporting interviews, student advisor roles and account managers.   

Increase in interviews vs. staff directly supporting interviews

As the number of interviews per student increases, the cost of providing interview services increases on a per-student-basis. The average student scheduled out for co-op attends nearly one more interview today (3.6 interviews per term) than they did in 2016 (2.9 interviews per term), resulting in increased interviews and costs overall.   

The graph on the following page shows the increase in interviews and the increase in staff directly supporting those interviews. 

Interviews per term vs. staff supporting interviews

Increase in student enrolment vs. number of student advisors

From 2013 to 2018, the number of students supported by Co-operative Education has increased by 29% whereas the number of student advisors hired to support students has grown by 27%.

The average SA role today is responsible for 280 students per-term today, which is up from 275 students per-term in 2013.

Students supported by student advisors vs. number of student advisor roles

Increase in active co-op employers vs account managers

While the number of active employers has increased 14% since 2013/14, the number of account managers (AMs) in CE has not grown over the past five years. This is because CE has restructured the work to remove more routine responsibilities from account manager roles to the operational area where these functions can be performed effectively and efficiently at lower job levels. If the change had not been made, two additional AMs would need to be hired today.

The average AM role manages 55 (13.5%) more employers today than in 2013/14 (from 406 to 461 employers on average).

Active employers vs. Account Managers

Co-op Fee Student Consultation Summary

In May 2018, a survey about the University’s co-op fee was distributed to 19,353 Waterloo co-op students via email, digital channels and on-campus signage. Valid responses were received from 3,258 active co-op students for a response rate of 16.8%. Additional focus groups were conducted with dozens of students in early June 2018.

Key findings from the survey and focus groups included:

  1. Most students feel they don’t know what services the co-op fee pays for or why the fee increases annually. More than two-thirds of students surveyed answered that they do not know “what is funded by the co-op fee” (71.2%), and that they are not aware of how the “co-op fee supports their academic program” (63.7%).
    • While students were able to list many of the CEE services that are funded by the fee, in focus groups they expressed concern that they have not personally used those services and don’t know whether those services are highly utilized.
    • The Student Advisor role is an area of concern. Not all students received a visit, but many that had a Student Advisor visit expressed concern over their effectiveness.
    • In qualitative comments, students suggested they need a detailed breakdown of where the fee is being allocated, what services are available to them, and a better understanding of what will drive future increases in the fee.
  2. Students are learning about the fee too late and from non-university channels. Three-quarters of Waterloo co-op students surveyed (74.1%) said they learned about the co-op fee after arriving to campus, with over half (51.8%) learning about the fee during or after the first term in which they paid the fee.
    • During focus groups, many students were concerned that they only learned about the fee when it was first posted to their Quest account and suggested they need to find out about the fee before arriving on-campus.
    • While nearly one-quarter of students first learned about the fee from fellow students (23.4%), those surveyed suggested they would prefer to learn about the fee through more official channels such as in their admission package (75.3%), through UW websites (62.7%) and in student viewbooks/brochures (44.8%).
  3. Current efforts to communicate with students are well-received but need to reach more eyes and ears. 64.0% of students were not aware of the co-op fee review site available on the University of Waterloo Co-op website, suggesting that other channels may be needed to direct students to the website.
    • The website was seen as a positive step towards increased transparency with students. However, in focus groups, students suggested that more direct and easy-to-consume communication methods are needed, with some “hand-holding” needed for first-year co-op students.
    • Students suggested that updates about the co-op fee should come by email at the start of the term, with awareness campaigns at timely moments (i.e. when fees are released or during interviews), in collaboration with student societies.

Through these consultations, the project team was able to confirm that students are looking for more information about what services that the co-op fee pays for, and why the fee increases annually. They also want this information earlier in the process and through more direct, easy-to-consume channels than today. 

Phase 1 Wind Down

The project team will wind down the first phase of this project and begin the next phase. This second phase will be defined during fall 2018. Phase 2 will divide the findings of the first phase into two streams of work.

  1. Short to medium term work. These are initiatives that can be or are currently being worked on and will be initially under the guidance of the new steering committee. The expectation is that these will be incorporated into a permanent role in Co-operative Education (Co-op Student Experience Manager position) in the future.
  2. Long term projects. This work that requires further investigation, consultation and understanding with campus stakeholders across the University. A steering committee will be created to review these larger findings, prioritize and determine how to proceed. 

Phase 2 Next Steps 

  1. Items that have been or will be acted upon:
    • The Co-op Fee Review project team will continue actively working with students through the Federation of Students, the Co-op Student Council and Student Societies to improve transparency and communication around the co-op fee and the services it funds.
    • Work has begun with the Marketing and Undergraduate Recruitment (MUR) team to inform students about the co-op fee sooner. A thorough review of all communication materials around the co-op fee will take place in phase 2 to provide clear, transparent and consistent messaging about the co-op fee throughout all of the existing recruitment and onboarding materials for students.
  2. Items that require further investigation, consultation and understanding with campus stakeholders across the University. The project team will set up a steering committee to determine the process for seeking further discussion, prioritization and the approach to the longer-term items outlined below. As these more complex issues are discussed and consensus is reached on what the approach will be, separate initiatives may be launched.
    • A governance model on how co-op is funded and what services it supports.
    • The philosophy and practice of assessing co-op fees at the graduate student level is inconsistent with that at the undergraduate student level.  Additional exploration of this issue is recommended to determine whether or not the philosophies and fee assessment schedules should be more consistent between the graduate and undergraduate programs. 
    • Perceived inconsistency in co-op fees within various undergraduate programs.  Additional analysis and exploration is recommended to assess why these inconsistencies exist, if any changes are required and whether university-wide co-op fee assessment principles should be developed for any new co-op programs or significant changes to co-op programs.