Eleven Ways to Determine Whether Your College is Focused on Careers

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number 11How focused on careers is your college?

If you are a career professional who works with students and alumni, I know you are 100-percent focused on careers and go above and beyond the call of duty to advise, assist, and support the needs of your constituents.

However, let me ask the question again:

How focused on careers is YOUR college?

Before you answer that question, let me share my thoughts about how to judge whether your college is focused on careers.  This list of eleven strategies is designed to stir your imagination and provide a launching point to build excitement among colleagues and ultimately get the respect and support of everyone from faculty all the way up to the Board of Trustees.  These strategies are designed to offer you a benchmark that you can use to compare your results with those of colleagues at other colleges and universities which are rapidly adopting new strategies to create more career-centered college cultures.

Your college is becoming more focused on careers if:

  1. Your college has organized a taskforce that is reaching out to all constituents on and off campus to define what the next generation of career services the college will provide employers, students, and alumni.
  2. Your career center budget has increased by fifty percent in the past seven years.
  3. You have one career counselor/advisor for every 200 students.
  4. Your alumni association has an active mentoring program that matches sixty percent of your students with alumni the minute they arrive on campus.
  5. Your faculty actively encourages students to utilize the services provided by the career center, as well as integrates career experiences and advice within the curriculum.
  6. Your career center has staff dedicated to going out into the business community and building relationships with hiring authorities who are/could be hiring your graduates.
  7. Your students are required to complete a minimum number of hours per year in career development to graduate.  (This includes participating in a mandatory career preparation course/program that covers career exploration, planning, and job searches.)
  8. You have a program that engages and informs parents of their roles in being career encouragers to your students.
  9. Your alumni association has included in its mission statement a commitment to provide career support for alumni from the moment each graduates into their retirement years.
  10. Your college has a budget and staff whose job it is to help graduates transition from college to their first professional jobs.
  11. Your administration has incentivized your career center to improve the number of students with jobs soon after graduation.

After reading this I can almost hear you saying, “Sure, when pigs fly!”

However, hold that comment for a moment and let me share with you some examples of institutions who are developing innovative ideas that you could adapt and use on your campus. Even more simply, you could use these as examples to show your management that your campus is falling behind others.  Hopefully, they will see that the risks of doing nothing– the risks of not “keeping up with the Jones,” the risks of not investing in this area– will be decreased enrollment, alumni satisfaction, and contributions.

1)  Your college has organized a taskforce that is reaching out to all constituents on and off campus to define what the next generation of career services the college will provide employers, students and alumni.

In the report, A Roadmp for Transforming the College-To-Career Experience, Andy Chan, Vice President for Personal and Career Development said:

“While transformational changes have occurred in the world of work, many college career offices look andfunction the same way they did twenty years ago. When we think about how dramatically the world of work has changed, it is remarkable that the methods utilized to prepare students to enter it have remained static. Yet instead of investing, schools slashed career office budgets by an average of 16 percent this past year while prospective students and families pleaded for increased support to help find gainful employment. Unless we can demonstrate to prospective students and their families that the four years spent at college will result in better employment prospects, there will continue to be those who disparage a college education as a waste of money.”

Wake Forest University, Hamilton College, and Radford University are just a few of a growning number of institutions whose Board of Trustees and Presidents are recognizing that their institutions needed to assemble a taskforce whose job it was to listen to all constituents on and off campus to determine how the college can better deliver on the career needs and expectations of students and their alumni.

2) Your career center budget has increased by fifty percent in the past seven years.

Ok, I might be stretching things here. However, if I was your President, I would quadruple your budget– if not give you more.  NACE research is showing the average small career center has an operating budget, minus salaries, of less than $30,000 annually.  However, there are colleges where management has recognized the significant importance of changing paradigms and as a result have SIGNIFICANTLY increased funding and staffing in their career centers.  If you know people at Radford, Stanford, or Wake Forest, ask them how they have been able to get management to support significant staffing and funding increases.

3) You have one career counselor/advisor professional for every 200 students.

You can’t really help students explore career options, learn career management, and hone job search techniques if they only visit the career center once or twice during their college careers.  Better than 50 percent of your students will need multiple coaching sessions to help prepare them for their first professional job searches. Hamilton College is a good example to share with your management.  NACE research suggests the average college has one career support staff to over 1,500 students, yet Hamilton– with 2000 students–has a remarkable, record breaking counselor-to-student ratio of about 1 to 180.

4)  Your alumni association has an active mentoring program that matches sixty percent of your students with alumni the minute they arrive on campus.

Mentoring is a hot topic among everyone in career services and alumni relations.  The problem is that no one has been able to adopt a successful program without having to invest a good deal of time and money nurturing of mentors and mentees.  It is a time-intensive operation and unfortunately, the Boards of Trustees and Presidents’ Councils have not recognized that it takes a greater commitment to grow successful mentoring programs.   Xavier University has been working hard over the past decade to give as many students as they can the opportunity to be mentored by alumni.  While there is some heavy lifting initially, correctly organized and with buy-in from others, it becomes easier to scale – and the payoff is astounding!

5)  Your faculty actively encourages students to utilize the services provided by the career center as well as integrates career experiences and advice within its curriculum.

Ha!  I know you are laughing at this one!   We all know faculty are only focused on their academic curriculums and have not been open to implementing career programming into their course work.  Yet, there are some of your colleagues that are kicking butt in this area.   Jerry Houser of Willamette College has been patiently reaching out to faculty to gain their support and engagement in their Career X Pathways Program.  It has taken time, but Jerry has laid the groundwork for the program to grow with a small amount of attention and maintenance.

6)  Your career center has staff dedicated to going out into the business community and building relationships with hiring authorities who are/ could be hiring your graduates.

Another chuckle from you, eh?   Who has the time to go out and build relationships with companies that hire students?  There is little doubt that with tools like the College ScoreCard, your college will be increasingly judged by how quickly students get jobs, and jobs that are relevant to their majors, as well as jobs that pay enough that the students can afford to pay back their loans.  The easiest way to improve your scores is to stay close to employers and build relationships with them.  That means bringing them on campus and introducing them to faculty, as well as listening to their needs. Others are doing it.  For-profit colleges like Strayer and Phoenix have hundreds of people who go out and meet with employers.  Tom Brinckley from Elon University’s primary responsibility is to do just that!  Andrew Ditlevson, Director of Career Services at St. Cloud State University is another great example of one that regularly brings his business advisory group together with faculty to build relationships and give them direct access to faculty’s recommendations.  Recognizing the need to engage the business community, Chapman University brought on board Jo Etta Bandy, who after leading a successful career in corporate communications at the highest level will focus on building bridges from the campus community to the corporate community.  Jo’s title is Director, Career and Industry.

7)   Your students are required to complete a minimum number of hours per year in career development in order to graduate.  (This includes participating in a required career-preparation course/program that covers career exploration, planning, and job searches.)

I shared in a previous blog article about an organization called the Campus Compact that requires college presidents to sign a compact that obligates their students to participate in a minimum number of hours volunteering in community programs prior to graduation.  Wouldn’t it be amazing if your president (with the approval of your Board of Trustees) signed a compact that required students to invest a minimum of 20 hours per year in career exploration, planning, management, and execution?  I know you might have a required course, but is it enough?   From my perspective, your students have an OBLIGATION to invest this time.  NACE research shows the more time students invest in their careers, the greater chance successfully launch those careers.   By NOT taking ownership of their careers, they will face greater challenges, and they will RUIN your College ScoreCard numbers!

8)   You have a program that engages and informs parents of their roles in being  career encouragers for your students.

There was a time when colleges and universities did not want parents involved in their students’ college years – unless it was to contribute money.  However, studies by the Career Advisory Board and others show that students lean on their parents for more career support and advice than their career centers.  So why not take advantage of that?  Auburn University and the University of Wyoming offer their parents access to a CareerParent Community where parents hear career authors and coaches, and can download a copy of the book, The Employed Grad, Knowledge, Skills & Strategies Your Grad Will Need to Get a Job, a workbook, quiz, and other resources so they can better understand their roles in being “career encouragers.”  The goal is to use the parents’ influence to get students to visit their career centers frequently.   It is also easier to ask parents for contributions when you are showing them you are committed to helping their students launch successful careers.

9)   Your alumni association has included in its mission statement a commitment to provide career support for alumni from the moment they graduate into their retirement years.

If you read any of my books, blogs, or reports, I frequently cite two significant surveys and research studies that show alumni want and expect career support from their alma maters.  (The Alumni Attitude Study and the Olson Zaltman Associates and “What Do Alumni Want from Their Undergraduate Alma Maters?”)  While many colleges are debating who should provide career support – the alumni associations or career centers– others are marching forward, acting on the research.   I’ve studied hundreds of alumni association mission statements and found only a handful that include– as one of their main missions – to support alumni career development through all stages of their careers (from student to retirement).  It is too easy to focus on familiar areas like events, tailgating, and fundraising.  If you want to move in this direction, consider joining the Alumni Career Services Network, a rapidly growing group of industry professionals who are answering these questions and acting on this research.

10.  Your college has a budget and staff whose job it is to help graduates transition from college to their first professional jobs.

What are you doing to help graduates after they walk across the stage and leave campus?  There is a good chance that 80 percent of your graduates will not have jobs by their graduation days.  According to survey data from the Career Advisory Board, more than 50 percent of career center directors do not think their grads’ resumes are ready for prime time and don’t believe they have the job search knowledge they need to get started.   Do your Board of Trustees and President realize they are taking a huge amount of money from their graduates and their families?  Do they not think they have some responsibility to change the paradigm and understand the relevance of the enormously difficult employment market their graduates face?    According to NACE’s survey, it will take your graduates an average of 8 months to find jobs.   Couldn’t you appeal to your Board for additional funding to support grads after they graduate?  After all, all they have is time!  Without a career boot camp intervention, your graduates will make every mistake in the book, and it will take them longer to get jobs, making your employment numbers UGLY.  If your administrators don’t recognize this will affect enrollment and contributions, you should probably start looking for another job!

11.  Your administration has incentivized your career center to improve the number of students with jobs soon after graduation.

Most organizations create goals and incentives to improve their organizations’ performance. Until recently, we had not collected much data or had any direction from our Boards or Presidents to improve them.  If your department turns in numbers now, consider asking your management team if you could develop a strategy by which you will improve your stats over the next year.  In order to improve them, you will need additional resources.  If you show management the benefits of continually improving, I’m certain you will find a favorable response to a request for more resources.   Consider taking it another step and get your boss to share what the value of the improvement would be on enrollment, satisfaction, and contributions… and then ask for a raise commensurate with your achievement.

Whew!

I really didn’t intend for this blog post to be so long, but, as usually I got a bit carried away!  I stopped at 11 reason because frankly I ran out of steam.  So I’d like to appeal to your help.  I know there are many addition ways you evaluate if your college is truly focusing on careers and the needs of your students, alumni and organizations that employ them.

Share with us what number 12, 13, 14 are!

CLICK HERE  TO JOIN A GROUP OF PEERS WHO ARE DEVELOPING STRATEGIES TO CREATE A CAREER-CENTERED COLLEGE CAMPUS!

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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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