Career Centers’ Future? Charge Fees for Levels of Service

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I realize this will be a controversial topic, but in light of the pressures your college is facing, it’s an inevitable step.  Your college will, at sometime in the foreseeable future, charge students to provide them with the level of service and outcome they and their parents expect from their college investment.

Think about it for a moment. 

Almost anything a student does on-campus comes at an additional cost.   As a parent, I feel it every time I pay tuition, room and board, books, student fees, club fees, transportation fees, and parking.  I feel it when I buy athletic/entertainment or guest speaker tickets, pay for health services, or incur any of the sundry fees now included in the college experience.  Everything costs!  So why not charge me to provide my kids’ career services?  Consider continuing to offer the current services that you offer for free, but charge for more advanced services.

We discussed earlier that your career center could be facing legislation that will require you to prove your grads are “gainfully employed” in jobs that are relevant to their degrees, as well as pay enough for them to cover living expenses and at the same time pay down their student loans.  We also discussed the expectations of your parents and students, which are on the rise.

In order for you to get ahead of this issue and hire more counselors and staff and provide more resources, you will need a bigger budget.   If you are like most career centers you are facing yearly budget freezes or–more likely–budget cuts.

In order to help offset the costs of hiring additional staff, and buying curriculum, videos and other tools necessary to help students explore career options and build successful career strategies, consider adopting a tiered services program.   You could come up with a good, better, and best option that parents and students could choose from.  The fee might be included as a line item charge on the tuition bill, or it might be a separate charge, just like buying books.

Charging students for career services is already being done in California.

The Chancellor of the California State University system has authorized a number of CSU colleges to charge a “Student Success” fee.  At California State University Polytechnics (CalPoly), students are now paying $410 per year for university services related to their career success.  Each CSU college is given the flexibility to determine where these funds are used.  Some of the funding goes to academic advising and related “retention” programs.

Based on this experience, it might make sense to give students and parents the options of deciding where they want to spend their money.

Charging a fee, whether it’s optional or required, does two things.  First, with additional resources, the career center is able to ramp up services and curriculum and become more inventive about how to increase students’ use of the services.  It will give the career center the ability to add staff to engage alumni, place students in companies, track employment results, reach out to more companies, and provide more one-on-one coaching.

The second advantage is an increased use of your services.   If parents are paying for advanced career services, it’s likely they will be more engaged in making sure their children are utilizing them.

You’ve heard the old adage, “You get what you pay for!”

Will parents and students pay for “deluxe” career services?   The simple answer is yes.  The same parents spend as little as a couple of hundred, and others as much as $10,000, to provide their son or daughter SAT and ACT coaching and training.   I can guarantee these same parents and others will understand the value of giving their student the skills and knowledge they need to lead successful careers.

What can we expect if you don’t charge fees?

It’s no secret to anyone who is working in the career center that the department has never had enough funding and resources to serve all students.   The average career center counselor is responsible to coach and advise 1,645 students, which makes it literally impossible to even offer 1 hour of career advising to each student in a year.  The average career center has an operating budget of only $63,086 per year.  (The median operating budget is considerably smaller at only $31,000 per year)

It’s clear in today’s tight economic times that the career center is going to face ongoing budget cuts.   Charging fees is the only way the career center is going to be able to maintain service levels!

Is this the right direction for your college?

  1. Do some research and look at what your colleagues are doing at their colleges.  You need to create a benchmark with which to compare yourself.
  2. Create a short memo for your boss and get his/her feedback on what you need to do –give management enough details they can help make a decision.
  3. Create an outline of what your basic, free service will be and what advantages a better and best product will offer.

Fee based services offer your career center enormous opportunities to change the paradigm and offer transformative innovation with the administration’s blessings!

What are your thoughts?



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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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