Youth Involvement in Cooperatives

Author: Dixie Watts Dalton, Virginia Tech,


Introduction to Youth Involvement in Cooperatives

Youth participating in a county-wide council.
Photo courtesy of Clayton County Extension, Iowa.

Cooperatives can be found in every state in the nation and in many sectors, from agriculture and finance to housing and daycare, to name just a few. Cooperatives meet needs that are currently not being met in the marketplace, from quality products and services to better prices and outstanding customer service. One audience that cooperatives serve is the youth audience, by providing educational opportunities, scholarships, future careers or cooperatives specifically designed for young audiences.

Numerous educational opportunities are available for youth at the state, regional and national level. In fact, some of the online educational resources of numerous cooperatives are targeted specifically to younger audiences. Many cooperatives around the country are committed to the “duty to educate,” one of the founding Rochdale Principles, and many provide scholarships to local youth.

As college students are considering their future careers, they may want to participate in an internship with a cooperative. A number of cooperatives offer internships in management, finance, accounting, sales, merchandising and marketing.

Some cooperatives are specifically designed to meet the needs of youth, such as the housing cooperatives found at a number of colleges and universities. Other examples include textbook cooperatives to provide an economical alternative to traditional bookstores and food cooperatives that cater to college students.

A cooperative is a business model that can offer opportunities to citizens of all ages. This section will highlight some of the ways that youth are involved in the cooperative movement, either as member-owners, as employees or as recipients of cooperative education. But first, view this video that shows how cooperatives provide valuable lessons to young entrepreneurs.




U.S. Youth Cooperative Education/Leadership Programs

Youth participating in Citizenship Tour, Washington, D.C.
Photo courtesy of Clayton County Extension, Iowa.

Numerous youth cooperative education and/or leadership programs are offered around the country. A number of states send students to the National Institute on Cooperative Education (NICE), a youth conference that was originally offered through the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives and has, in recent years, been sponsored by State Cooperative Councils on different university campuses in different host states. Check below to see if your home state offers a youth leadership conference that is focused on the cooperative way of doing business.


The College Conference on Cooperatives is a three-day program offered by the National Farmers’ Union.


  • National Institute on Cooperative Education
  • Electric Cooperative Youth Tour
  • State/Regional Electric Cooperative Youth Programs
  • State/Regional Programs

Additional Leadership Opportunities

Cooperatives realize that today’s youth are tomorrow’s cooperative employees, members and board of director members. A unique, in-depth leadership opportunity is provided by the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA).

Youth Learning Modules

For youth who are interested in learning more about cooperatives, the University of Wisconsin Center for Cooperatives offers an interactive website, designed specifically for youth.

Scholarships Provided by Cooperative Organizations

One of the founding Rochdale Principles, developed by the Rochdale Pioneers in England in 1844, was the “duty to educate.” Cooperatives remain committed to education, including offering scholarship support to deserving youth. Many cooperatives provide support to the youth in their local communities, while some cooperatives have a broad geographic reach. Below is a link to one cooperative offering scholarship opportunities. Youth should contact local cooperatives in their area to determine scholarship availability.

  • The CHS Foundation is committed to investing in the future leaders in cooperative business, agribusiness and production agriculture at the collegiate level through scholarships, grants and resources. The Foundation offers the following three scholarship programs:
    1. High School Scholarship Program – Graduating high school seniors pursuing an agricultural-related major at any two- or four-year college throughout the nation are encouraged to apply for one of 50 $1,000 scholarships.
    2. Two-Year College Scholarship Program – First-year agricultural students at any two-year college are invited to apply for 25 $1,000 scholarships.
    3. University Scholarship Program – Students currently studying agriculture at select universities around the nation may be eligible to apply for this scholarship. Nearly 150 $1,000 scholarships are awarded annually.

Questions can be directed to Jennifer Thatcher at 800-814-0506 or


Cooperative Careers

Many cooperatives offer internship programs and full-time career opportunities for current college students and college graduates. Students should contact their local cooperatives to determine if they have a formal internship program or if they hire students on an as-needed basis. Some cooperatives have formal management trainee programs to help prepare new hires to move into management positions within the cooperative.

Youth Involved in Cooperatives

Purdue University cooperative housing.
Photo courtesy of Purdue Cooperative Council.

Is college in your immediate future? When touring a campus, inquire about a university housing cooperative. Besides generally being more economical, housing coops offer the opportunity to connect to other students with similar interests

University housing cooperatives are one of the most widespread forms of cooperatives that are owned and controlled by youth. Originally founded to provide more economical housing options on college and university campuses, housing cooperatives also provide opportunities to gain valuable skills in leadership, management, procurement and marketing. The campuses listed below are a few that are home to student-owned and managed housing cooperatives.

  • Purdue University
  • University of California at Berkeley
  • University of Michigan
  • University of Texas at Austin

Other Online Resources for Youth

The “Youth SET for Life” Community of Practice is an online resource dedicated to the fields of science, engineering and technology (SET). Their mission is to increase awareness, understanding and appreciation of SET among youth and to improve related knowledge, skills and abilities for use in their lives and future careers.

What are Cooperatives?, CI Report 10, Rural Business Cooperative Service, USDA, 1995 – This publication focuses on cooperatives and discusses what they are, their basic functions and how they are organized.

Members Make Co-ops Work, CI Report 12, Rural Business Cooperative Service, USDA, 1997 – This publication focuses on cooperative members, covering who members are and what their responsibilities are as owners, with particular emphasis on control, financing and patronage.

What Co-op Directors Do, CI Report 14, Rural Business Cooperative Service, USDA, 1997 – This publication focuses on the board of directors, covering characteristics members should consider in choosing a director to represent them, alternatives for nominating and electing directors, and functions and responsibilities of directors.

What the Co-op Manager Does, CI Report 16, Agricultural Cooperative Service, USDA, 1993 – This publication focuses on managers, covering what their management responsibilities are, with particular emphasis on differences between cooperative management and that of other forms of business.

What Co-op Employees Do, CI Report 18, Rural Business Cooperative Development Service, USDA, 1995 – This publication focuses on employees, covering what employees do and the role they play as an important part of a successful cooperative.

References and Resources

Agricultural Cooperative Fundamentals – This self-directed course introduces fundamentals of ag supply cooperatives, which includes: cooperative principles, patronage refunds/finance, organizational structure, and member and community benefits.

Back to School, Rural Cooperatives, USDA Rural Development, 2003 – NICE marks its 75th anniversary with a return to campus as a coop youth education program.

Cultivate.Coop – The goal of this project to create an interactive cooperative community resource for young people to learn about cooperatives.

Greenhouse grows more than plants – co-op teaches youth about nutrition and community involvement, Rural Cooperatives, USDA Rural Development, 2009.

Look Who’s Minding the Store, Rural Cooperatives, USDA Rural Development, 2010 – Student-run supply coops are short-lived, but the concepts they teach live on.

My Co-op Rocks – Show how your co-op builds a better world and win monetary prizes or gift certificates. This yearly video and photo contest, sponsored by well-known cooperatives, cooperative associations and cooperative organizations, offers three top prizes for best video and for best photo. This contest is open to U.S. residents 18 and older.

North American Students of Cooperation (NASCO) – This association of campus cooperatives in the United States and Canada provides student cooperatives with operational assistance, encouraging the development of new student cooperatives and serving as an advocate for student cooperatives.

SkillsUSA prepares students for trade and technical careers, Rural Cooperatives, USDA Rural Development, 2007 – Contact information for SkillsUSA–Phone: 703-777-8810; Fax: 703-777-8999; Website:

Tour helps co-op concepts ‘come alive’ for future cooperative leaders, Rural Cooperatives, USDA Rural Development, 2010 – Nearly 100 students from nine states came together in Minneapolis, Minnesota, to learn about cooperatives from coop experts, employees and coop members of all ages. The students were participants in the College Conference on Cooperatives, sponsored by the CHS Foundation and hosted by the National Farmers Union (NFU) Foundation.

University course promotes co-op development to meet community needs, Rural Cooperatives, USDA Rural Development, 2010.