COOP Careers: Fueling upward mobility for first-generation college graduates

July 5, 2023

COOP Careers matches peer cohorts of underemployed first-generation and Pell Grant (need-based federal financial aid) college grads with alumni coaches. Together, they build the professional skills and networks needed to get their first good job after graduation. For 16 weeks, peer cohorts of 16 motivated grads meet nightly (200 hours) to learn technical skills, meet potential employers, and build community to jump start upwardly mobile careers. 

Founded in 2014, COOP started out with just one peer cohort of 12 college graduates armed with their college degrees but demoralized from the endless and fruitless job hunting. Through this cohort model, these grads gained the peer professional networks they needed to launch a meaningful career. Their enduring support for one another sparked COOP’s alumni-led program model.

“Alumni leadership is essential to COOP's flagship program and our organization,” said COOP Founder and CEO Kalani Leifer. “Proximity always matters when you're trying to change people's lives. Alumni teammates bring unique wisdom, insight, passion, and credibility to our team. Our mission is always present, institutional knowledge runs deep, and innovation is rooted in a rich understanding of our community.” More than 55% of COOP’s HQ staff are alumni and 100% of the alumni coaches went through the program.

Since the end of their first year, every single COOP cohort has been led entirely by alumni “captains” who serve as near-peer coaches and industry mentors for their cohorts. As captains, alumni teach 100% of COOP’s 200-hour curriculum, which introduces participants to the hard skills (e.g., SEO, Tableau, Salesforce) and soft skills (e.g., time management, communication) of each industry and provides guidance and support as they secure their first good job. 

COOP has since launched sites in San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Jose, Chicago, and Miami and has grown to serve more than 4,500 alumni. Eighty percent of alumni overcome underemployment within a year, earning an average of $50,000 per year and almost $75,000 after five years.

In 2021, COOP partnered with Grow with Google and Shopify to deliver Main Street ONLINE. The initiative serviced over 120 small businesses by creating Shopify sites for each business. It also translated into a feature of COOP’s program model: The Small Business (SMB) Client Project.

COOP’s SMB Client Project provides participants an opportunity to gain hands-on work experience, while servicing small businesses with pro bono Digital Marketing, Data Analytics, and Business Development services. Groups of 4-5 participants are assigned to a SMB client and produce a deliverable (report or presentation) that is catered to each client’s need(s). COOP-ers enhance their digital and soft skills to support their journey in securing upwardly mobile, well-paying careers—all while investing in small businesses and local economies. 

COOP just concluded its spring 2023 cycle and during that time they serviced 53 SMB clients. The Mizuho USA Foundation’s support of COOP’s SMB Client project allowed COOP to hire an additional full-time staff member who supported the onboarding and guidance of half of these clients.

“Along with everyone else, COOP alumni have faced a difficult job market this past year. Hiring has been much slower and more uncertain than in years past, and employer partners are reporting to us that they are facing budget constraints that make it difficult for them to project hiring demands,” stated COOP Managing Director of Partnerships Sarah Wessel.

She continued, “In spite of this outlook, over half of our alumni from our previous semester have secured full-time employment making a median salary of $52,000/year, more than double their pre-program salary.”

COOP aims to reach 10,000 alumni in its first decade, fueling upward mobility for first-generation college graduates and fulfilling the promise of higher education. 


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