“An Open Letter to College Presidents”, Is BAD News for Career Services

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On an unusually cold April weekend, when I should have been out riding 20 miles on my bike, I ended up settling into a comfortable old leather chair to read a report issued by the National Commission on Higher Education Attainment (NCHEA) that was titled, An Open Letter to College and University Leaders:  College Completion Must Be Our Priority.

Apparently, the Obama administration asked the American Council of Education (ACE) to convene a group of college and university presidents to discuss steps colleges and universities could take to increase the number of Americans who complete college.  The ACE pulled together 6 presidential associations from Washington, DC who reached out to college presidents willing to serve on the new committee.

Based on the pedigree of the organizations behind the report and their membership base, it was clear to me that what I was about to read reflected the thinking of presidents at colleges and universities across America and it would guide the investment of resources, both staff and money, for the next decade.    After reading:

“We believe every institution must pay as much attention to the number of degrees it grants— completion—as it does to success in admissions and recruitment. It is now time for all colleges and universities to marshal the resources needed to make completion our strategic priority.”

…I was hoping to see the report recommend an emphasis on, and a commitment to career services.

Unfortunately, after reading the report twice, I couldn’t find any indication that the commission was going to suggest colleges and universities emphasize career exploration, career planning and career development as a way to increase the number of students that graduate.

The report suggested there were three broad categories colleges and universities could focus on that would increase the number of students that graduate:

  • Changing campus culture to boost student success
  • Improving cost-effectiveness and quality
  • Making better use of data to boost success

I was hopeful that the first category would suggest that colleges focus on career planning like I wrote about in my report, Create a Career Centered College Culture and Campus.   As I dug into,  “Changing campus culture to boost student success,” I slowly digested the key points:

  1. Assign ownership of this process to someone
  2. Implement initiative campus-wide
  3. Suggest colleges study past mistakes
  4. Create a student-centered culture
  5. Improve the academic experience
  6. Give credit for previous learning
  7. Provide support services for nontraditional students
  8. Teach the teachers

As I wiggled in my chair, I kept thumbing through the 30 page report trying to find comments that might have to do with career services. The only place I found a  brief statement about career services was in a paragraph about Fairleigh Dickinson University’s nationally recognized veterans career support programs.    So I reexamined the report to see if there was a veiled mention, or implied reference that would suggest campuses emphasize career development.  I went back into the above points and zeroed in on numbers 2, 4 and 7 hoping I would see a suggestion to college presidents to put an emphasis on career education and training.

But, alas, there was none!

It was at that moment, that I realized that career services is just not on the radar of college presidents.  It was at that moment, that I realized college presidents do not see that a focus on careers could increase retention, graduation rate and the number of grads with jobs!

There should be no doubt in your mind that this is indeed an important report that will effect change on your campus! The President of Ohio State University, E. Gordon Gee’s, introductory letter offers a call to action for college presidents:

“Most important, this letter is a renewed call for collective and immediate action at a pivotal moment for higher education. We must make bold decisions and seize opportunities, we must do it now, and we must do it together. We ask for your help and commitment to ensuring a bright future for higher education.”

This initiative, called for by the Obama administration, is going to get a great deal of attention on your campus over the next decade,  However, unless you speak up, your career center is not going to be included in this movement. The good news is you have a unique opportunity to use this report to raise awareness about the importance of career exploration, development and management on your campus.

To do that, I’d suggest you write a one page outline of how your department can increase retention and the number of students that graduate.  Then paper clip it, along with a cover letter, and a copy of the NCHEA report, and give it to your boss, or hand it directly to the president.

In your one page report:

  • Compare how much your campus is spending per student on career services, versus other departments, AND include campuses you regard as leaders in this area.
  • Share stats and information conducted by NACE that prove that students who invest more time in their careers will not only get internships but jobs by graduation day.
  • Identify what you want to do, but currently can’t, because of staffing and budget issues.
  • Share stats, like the UCLA, HERI Freshman Survey that prove students are going to college to get a better job, as well as stats by Addeco, Heldrich and Pew that suggest grads wished they spent more time on career development.
  • Make sure your president is aware that this is an institutional problem nationwide by sharing the Career Advisory Boards report that suggested nearly 50 percent of career center directors don’t think grads have what it takes to find a job!
  • Share how an emphasis on careers will increase retention, the graduation rate and the number of grads with jobs .

You have an incredible opportunity to get the ear of your president and get the resources you think you need, as well as begin to change the culture on campus to focus on careers.

However,  if you don’t take this opportunity right now, I can guarantee you will continue to struggle to make a difference in the lives of students who don’t take ownership of their career because the campus is not focused on career exploration, development and management.

You must seize the opportunity Gordon Gee mentions and make this moment, your moment on your campus!  Be a part of this discussion and movement!

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Don Philabaum
Love to find ways to use technology help more grads and alumni develop successful career strategies.
Don Philabaum
Don Philabaum
Don Philabaum

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