The Economics of Cooperative Enterprises is designed as a challenging integrative experience course for undergraduates. Students will be asked to retrospectively analyze their experiences as workers and consumers, evaluating the impact of organizational forms and industry structure. How do cooperative enterprises (including those on campus such as the People’s Market, Earthfoods, and Campus Design and Copy) differ from other enterprises? Students will also be asked to explicitly bring material they have learned in other classes to bear on these issues. The final project requires students to work in small teams of up to 4 students to develop a business plan for a cooperative enterprise that builds upon their own interests and expertise.
Discussion assignments and short quizzes are organized around consideration of five central questions that should also inform the final business plan for a cooperative enterprise:
- How can cooperative enterprises lead to better outcomes for workers, consumers, the environment, and society as a whole?
- How can cooperatives and worker-owned businesses successfully compete with capitalist firms?
- Do cooperatives and worker-owned businesses challenge or complement the capitalist system?
- Are worker-owned businesses significantly different from other forms of “shared capitalism” such as Employee Stock Ownership Plans (ESOPs)?
- What kinds of improved education, networking and collaboration could successfully promote cooperative enterprises?
The basic course syllabus was designed by the University of Massachusetts Cooperative Enterprise Collaborative, including faculty and graduate students from the Economics Department and other academic departments, and members of the Valley Alliance of Worker Cooperatives (VAWC) with on-the-ground experience in social entrepreneurship. The course is required for the Applied Economic Research Certificate in Cooperative Enterprise, which is built around a summer research internship with a VAWC member firm or other cooperative business.