College Board of Trustees and President’s Council Should be held Accountable for Graduate Under/Unemployment!

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In a riveting look at the news media in the mid 1970’s, the Movie Network offered a memorable moment that is still relevant today.

Network MovieIn the movie, Peter Finch plays Howard Beale, a longtime anchor of Union Broadcasting Systems Evening News.   Upset with having to deliver depressing news about crime, war, and things leaders are doing nothing about, Howard Beale– in an unforgettable monologue –encourages viewers to go to their windows and shout out,”I am as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!”

I am rapidly reaching that point,and –based on my conversations with hundreds of career center professionals –they are too!


Because the Board of Trustees and President’s Councils of colleges across the country are still primarily focusing on enrollment, contributions, and building out the campus infrastructure.   Only a handful of colleges are creating task forces to see how their campuses can do a better job preparing graduates and alumni for the rapid changes happing in work force, job functions, and career management.

Many in upper management give lip service to their support of career exploration, management, and teaching job search skills, but in reality their pitiful financial and staffing support of their career centers suggests otherwise.

Don’t believe me?

According to a survey by NACE, in the seven years from 2007 to 2014, the average mid-sized college career center took a 22 percent cut in its operating budget.   This happened at a time of increasing enrollment and alumni to serve, and the introduction of social media job search techniques, keyword laden resumes, and an employment market that lost, then regained 8 million jobs.  That has left the hard working career professionals scrambling to serve an ever increasing student and alumni base.

Careers should be part of the campus culture

Look at any college and you will find a myriad of activities, events, and traditions that focus on everything but careers.  Barrels of money are spent on campus clubs, athletics, concerts, speakers’ forums and residential life, yet only a pitence is shared with the career center so they can compete with all of these other activities to get the attention of students, faculty, parents, and alumni and engage them in the delicate balance of focusing on career preparation.   Alumni associations are also falling behind alumni expectations. Despite numerous polls and surveys, alumni associations are still providing only a limited number of the career-related programming and activities that alumni expect (if they are providing them at all).

In my book, The Unemployed Grad, And What Parents Can Do About It, I share with parents why they need to encourage their students to take ownership of their careers immediately.   To make a point about where the college puts its priorities, I cite an organization in which 1200 colleges participate called the Campus Compact.  To be a member of the Campus Compact, a college president has to sign a compact that commits its college to require students to participate in a miminmun number of hours of community service prior to graduating.  I spend an entire chapter explaining the challenges career center professionals face in trying to rise above the noise on campus created by more exciting student activities like clubs, concerts, athletic events, and beer pong!   When the career center is treated like a club, it’s going to be difficult to get all constituents to come together and support its functions and goals.

My goal in writing the book was to get parents to be “career encouragers,” and take active roles in encouraging their students to visit career centers frequently – starting their freshman years.  Using the information provided in that book correctly, parents can tip the scales and increase the number of students who take ownership of their careers.   I’d also point out that I was not able to find another association like the Campus Compact that colleges could join that require students to commit a minimum number of hours per year in career exploration, management, and job search skills.

Is career preparation the college’s responsibility?

You might ask yourself if career preparation is really the responsibility of the college. Is it the college’s responsibility to create a culture on campus that focuses on careers?

I would submit that if colleges and universities wanted to improve engagement, satisfaction ratings, and ultimately deliver on their customers’ expectations, it should be!

  • According to a study contucted by the Higher Education Institute, more than 86 percent of incoming Freshman indicated they are going to college to better their career opportunities.  So, why not build the campus culture around this expectation?
  • Talk to anyone who graduated from college and he or she will suggest the career center didn’t do anything to help launch his or her career.   In fact, a study by the Heldrich Center for Workforce Development found that 58 percent of graduating seniors did not think their alma maters did enough to prepare them for their first professional job searches.

The Heldrich research suggests that a number of immediate issues ARE dramatically affecting the financial health of the college:

  1. First of all– graduates that don’t get jobs and have higher student loan debt will take a LONG time to find space in their wallets to contribute to the funding pleas of the annual giving and development offices.
  2. Secondly– dissatisfied graduates will be hard pressed to recommend their alma maters to their friends, cousins, neighbors, and colleagues.

In a traditional business, if 60 percent of the customer based was not satisfied with the company, management would do something immediately to fix it.   In this case, the poor, already overworked staff of the alumni association are going to have to find a way to fix this.  Good luck finding a way to engage this majority, alumni directors!

There are campuses you can turn to – to show your management – they are falling behind the competition!

The good news is there are already colleges and universities that are leading the way and investing the time and resources to make careers a central part of their campus TRADITIONS and cultures.   There are a number of colleges and universities that have Boards of Trustees and Presidents who have recognized these risks and encouraged their administrators to build strategies that will create new career traditions which will become part of the central fabric of their campus cultures.

  • Hamilton College’s Board charged the President to create a task force to look at the issue in the years following the great recession.  Within a year, the task force brought back recommendations and the board rubber-stamped and provided the funding to support those.  Today, Hamilton College boasts one of the lowest career counselor-to-student ratios in the country.  NACE research has suggested the average has been fairly consistantly 1 counselor to over 1,500 students over the past decade, yet Hamiliton has an amazing 1 couselor to about 160 students!
  • Stanford University’s leadership recognized that they needed to find a way to deliver on their students’ expectations and ramp up career-related activities and experiences.  Farouk Dey was tasked with holding town hall meetings with campus groups, one-on-one meetings with hiring authorities, students, faculty, alumni, administrators, and—yes– even alumni, in order to develop a holisitic, sustainable career strategy for the 21st century.   In less than a year, Farouk was able to deliver a plan that took all of the research and suggestions into account and today Stanford has a much larger, more nimble career management team and strategy that engages all constituents – both on- and off-campus – thus contributing to the known importance of career development at Stanford.
  • Dr. Nathan Hatch, the President of Wake Forest University, is an early pioneer in recognizing this need.   He has reached out to alumni who share his concern and found an alumni who was willing to commit millions of dollars to fund the development of a new career center and to use it to increase the importance of career preparation and development at Wake Forest.  To show his support, he even elevated the position of Career Center Director to Vice President of Career Services.
  • Dr. Penelope Kyle and her executive team at Radford University stepped up to the challenges, as well, by attending the 2013 Wake Forest Conference and creating a task force with the goal of embedding career support into the culture on campus.  The subsequent forty page report offers guidance to other colleges.  The suggestions made by Kyle and her team were approved by administrators and a nearly-half-a-million-dollar annual budget for career services was approved.  (Radford University has 10,000 students.)

So I’d like to ask you a question?

Are you MAD as hell and not going to take it anymore?

  • If you are a career professional – I suspect you are.
  • If you are an alumni director who has to find a way to engage nearly 60 percent of your graduates who are not happy with the support they received from the career center, then I also suspect you also are.
  • If you are a parent of a student in college, like me, I know you are!

So what are you going to do about it?

If you are a career professional and a member of the alumni relations team, I encourage you to put together a one-page report that your boss can share with those to whom he or she reports, so it can reach the President’s Council and ultimately, the Board of Trustees.   You shouldn’t be put in a position where you don’t have the resources or funding to deliver on your customers’ expectations and upper management has to not only feel YOUR pain but the PAIN your graduates and alumni are feeling.

If you are a parent of a student in college, I encourage you to learn more about the services provided by the career center and make sure your student visits frequently.  You can also help the career center by writing letters directly to the President.

If administrators ignore your pleas, remind them that doing nothing to stay competitive with peer institutions–or to deliver on the expectations of students and alumni– will only result in the reduction of contributions and enrollment.

What do you think?  Share your thoughts on how we can all work together to create a culture on campus that is focused on careers.  If your campus is introducing new programs to move in this direction, please share them with us!




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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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