A student co-op most commonly refers to cooperative housing, in which students share a living space and work together in household matters. The term "student co-op" can also refer to co-op education, a method of instruction built on a foundation of experiential learning. Students in co-operative schools earn academic credit by performing in actual work situations. Another form of student co-op is the food co-op, which acts as a food market run by the students themselves.
In many cases, student housing is a major budgetary concern. In order to afford the rental of a living space, it is not uncommon for several students to share a single home. Given the communal nature of the arrangement, individuals living in a student co-op often split certain household tasks among themselves, allowing for a smooth, cooperative living experience. Some students, for instance, might be responsible for cooking the household's daily meals, while another group of students is asked to wash the dishes afterward. For this reason, many experts agree that cooperative living arrangements serve as an introduction to the independence life presents after school.
Student cooperative housing bears a significant difference from conventional cooperative housing. While conventional co-ops grant ownership of the household to the tenants in the form of shares, a student co-op remains under the ownership of the proprietor. The students simply divide the house's rental fees among themselves. There are exceptions to the norm, however, in which ownership is granted to the students. In either case, a student co-op is much more affordable than renting separate living spaces.
Cooperative education, on the other hand, works with the paradigm that learning is most easily absorbed when the lessons are applied during discussion. This form of student co-op awards academic credit for quality work performance in the field, like many on-the-job training programs. Although this model can certainly be more taxing on the students, it is widely acknowledged to ease their transition from school to work. In many cases, student co-op education programs have lower tuition fees than non-cooperative schools. The work rendered by the students, whether in the classroom or in the field, is considered a form of tuition payment.
The third common type of student co-op, a food cooperative, allows students to exercise early entrepreneurship, management, and commerce. The students themselves are responsible for all facets of the cooperative, from production of the food item to maintenance of the market area to sales and marketing of the product. A food co-op is typically created to provide students more affordable alternatives for dining. The wealth of experience garnered from managing a business can be an educational benefit in itself.