What Has Your Administration Done to Support Your Career Center Initiatives in the Past Two Years?

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Are you better off today than you were two years ago? 

ROADMAPIt was too cold to ride my bike –and the house was quiet with everyone in the family out doing last minute Christmas shopping– so I sat down in my old, comfy chair, next to the fire and downloaded a PDF of the report, A Roadmap for Transforming the College-to-Career Experience.

How time flies. 

I quickly realized that it’s been nearly two years since 250 higher education administrators, presidents, faculty members, corporate executives, and national thought leaders gathered at the invitation of President Nathan Hatch, at Wake Forest University, to discuss the role of a liberal arts education in the careers of graduates and alumni.

In May, it will be two years since the above report, co-authored by Andy Chan, VP for Personal & Career Development at Wake Forest University and Tommy Derry, was made available for free to anyone interested in downloading it.

In an age of tweets, blogs, and social media, new ideas are like lightning bolts and streak across the globe with frightening speed and intensity– democratizing knowledge and driving information instantly across ALL management levels, making it easier to influence those in the highest offices.

So it got me thinking…

Have the 7 key ideas presented and the dozens of successful strategies implemented at colleges like Elon, Hope, Hampden Sydney, Messiah, Michigan, University of Chicago, and Whitman caught fire? Are they being modified and replicated across the 4,000 colleges in the United States?

I can’t answer that, but I know you can!

Let me ask you…

  • Have your Board of Trustees,  president, and those you report to gotten excited about the prospect of transforming your college culture to focus on careers?
  • Has your campus administration given you the green light to adopt any of the 7 “road map” ideas that will help your campus transform the college-to-career experience?

If not, you need to dust off the above report again and physically put it in the hands of management!  It is now your duty to let them know that your college is losing a competitive advantage that will very quickly begin to affect enrollment management’s ability to maintain enrollment and revenues!

Time is of the essence!

After reading the report again, I realized the ideas that came out of the collective wisdom of career professionals like you, and those which were summarized by Andy and Tommy, could not solve problems just by adding 10 percent to the career center budget, or providing another staff member.   The ideas shared in the report were transformative ideas that would require the college to press a reset button and REBOOT the colleges’ cultures to focus on careers.

It’s a process, not a line item adjustment – and that takes time.

Don’t believe me?

Let’s take a quick look at the 7 steps Transforming the College-to-Career Experience is recommending!

1) Create a mission, vision, and goals statement:

The first suggestion is to develop a bold vision and mission for personal and career development.   There are four key questions we should be asking ourselves and others on campus to identify what roles we see career services taking on each of our campuses.   These are not questions that can be answered by one person; they need to have input from all constituents on campus, as well as direction from the Presidents’ councils and the Boards of Trustees.

This takes time and the recognition by others, as well as the priority of management.    Let’s see.  To even take this first step you will first have to get the attention of those you report to and get them to agree that you can create a report for the President or his/her council to review.  Then, you need to write it.  Next, you’ll lose a few months waiting for feedback and/or the green light.  If feedback is provided, you will need to conduct a survey of all on- and off-campus constituents to include everyone’s input.  This step alone could easily take 12 to 18 months!

2) Get everybody, on and off campus, involved, committed and engaged:

The second suggestion is to get the support of the administration, then commitments from faculty, and the involvement of parents, alumni, and hiring authorities.   Everyone on and off campus is going to have to sing from the same hymnal, have the same plan, and speak with the same voice.  That means you will need a written process, a methodology, and a job description for every actor in the process that does not only outline responsibilities, but indicate how the process will tell whether they have succeeded or failed in the process.

It’s in this stage that management is buying into the broad vision and begins to realign institutional resources to support the infrastructure, physical facility, technology, and staffing to support the collective vision, mission, and goals.  Depending on when this hits management, you could lose 6-12 months waiting for the next budget cycle.

3) Elevate Career Center’s influence:

A critical step in the process of becoming a more career-centered college culture is to elevate the Career Center position to the President’s Council, change the organization chart, and have the Career Center report to a different department that will receive economic value from it accomplishing its mission and goals.   Some colleges want to tie the Career Center to Admissions because the increased success will make the enrollment engine more successful.  Others want to tie it to the Development Office so that the combination will result in more engaged, satisfied, and successful alumni who will be more likely to support the fundraising initiatives of the campus.  This involves a series of meetings going up the food chain that could take anywhere from 12 – 24 months, depending on the politics involved.

4) Rebrand and hire more staff:

You know you are understaffed.  When the administration “bites” on your strategy, you will need to significantly ramp staffing, technology and curriculum.   Many colleges boast about the student-to-faculty ratio that can be as low as 1 faculty member to 21 students.  However, no college is going to boast about their student-to-career counselor ratio of 1,645 students to one counselor  (NACE).

The report suggests that you consider increasing your counseling capacity, but that you also increase staff to build bridges and engage employers and alumni, as well as improve communications, operations, and data analytics.

With staffing becoming an important part of this strategy, the report recommends that you increase the professional development of staff to keep them at the top of their games and more valuable to the career development of your students and alumni.    As a reference, check out the staff page at Wake Forest University , a college with 4,300 students, to see an organization that is “firing on all pistons.”  While comparable colleges might have 3-5 staff members, under Andy Chan’s leadership, this department has grown to 27 people working to ensure the transition from college to career is successful and supporting the mission, vision, and goals of the organization.

5) Track performance:

This step is not as difficult as it sounds, but it will require your department to start from scratch to identify what you want and need to track but the mechanisms and to collect and analyze that data.   This is going to be a critical step, but it’s the only way you will be able to identify what is working and what is not working.  It’s the only way you can find out which area is underperforming and gain the collective wisdom of all constituents involved and use their feedback and ideas about how to fix or adjust the process.

This will require someone on your team to not only devise the process and create the job descriptions, but to implement the system to collect data so that you can rate everyone’s participation.  It will require staff to connect and engage on a consistent basis to make sure everyone understands that the entire campus is focused on the fact that everyone is an important cog in the process.  This could take 6-12 months!

Further, this is the only way you will be able to monetize the results of your efforts.  This is the data your enrollment management people will need to promote the ROI of your college to prospective students and their families, and your Bursar’s office will need to show government agencies to prove that you are meeting Pell Grant requirements.

6) Train your influencers:

Andy and Tommy are recommending that you don’t keep this data to yourself but that you share it broadly and publicly.  In an age of transparency, they are recommending all constituents hear and understand what the data means.   They suggest you use success stories to motivate and encourage students to take ownership of their careers and use similar stories to build and increase mentoring relationships.  If you are moving in this direction, it will be important to “train the trainers” so they know how to mentor, how to coach, how to motivate, and who to notify if students need help.

7) Seven key programs to deliver career experiences:

This is where to rubber meets the road.

While the preceding suggestions offer guidance about how you can bring about a systemic change to the culture and fabric of the campus to reboot the culture to focus on careers, the final step has 7 VERY specific suggestions that increase students’ exposures to careers.  

The ideas presented range from getting students to take ownership of their careers from their initial arrivals on campus, providing roadmaps for them to follow, offering career related courses, increasing students’ exposure to alumni, tracking student progress, and providing post-graduation support to ALL graduates–all ideas you’ve dreamed of, but have not had the support, time, or resources to implement!


There’s a whole lot of work here!

This is not something that:

  • Can be added to someone’s current responsibilities.
  • Can be handled part time.
  • Will get a serious nod from other departments unless it is given the full support of the administration!

…and it is going to take time.

Wake Forest University’s journey to create a more career-centered college culture started way back in 2009 when President Nathan Hatch included in his strategic plan a campus culture in which personal and career development would be a mission-critical component of the undergraduate student experience.

The good news is that you don’t have to recreate the wheel.  Many of these ideas were already in place when this report was compiled by Wake Forest and other colleges.  These are proven, solid strategies that you can use to speed the transformation on your campus and to build a culture that focuses on careers.

Change is coming!

The thing that scares me the most when re-reading the collective wisdom shared in this report is that our colleges, graduates, and nation are running out of time!

Transformative change like that recommended in this report does not happen overnight.  Even with a supportive management team, it will take 3-5 years to begin to deliver on some of these ideas and a decade to begin firing on all pistons!

…and all of that depends on your campus starting today!

With nearly 2 million graduates joining an economy each spring, and surveys showing that it takes the average graduate nearly 8 months to get a job– and of that, over 53 percent of recent grads are either underemployed or unemployed– we no longer have the luxury of time. Your graduates and alumni are looking to you to make institutional change immediately.

Are YOU interested in joining a converstation about how to reboot your campus culture to focus on careers?



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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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