July 15, 2014
Farouk Dey, PhD
Something has been brewing in college career services lately; a movement for change in the way we think and the way we do our work to help students transition from college to careers. More than a third of programs presented at the 2014 National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) conference involved the themes of change, transformation, and future trends. Leaders from small and large, public and private, and rural and urban universities around the country are leaning forward and leading the emerging paradigm shift in college career services.
Evolution of Career Services
This is not the first major evolution of college career services. Changes in societal norms and economic conditions preceded each of the last four paradigm shifts, and this time is no different. The need for teachers in the 1920s due to the post World War I baby boom led to the creation of vocational guidance for graduating teachers (Pope, 2000). In the 1940s, the push to match veterans returning to college on the GI Bill with jobs in a manufacturing economy helped establish job placement as a necessary service on university campuses. A slowing economy and shift to a retail and service industry in the 1970s and 1980s helped transform the placement model to a career counseling and planning model (Casella, 1990). This paradigm shift emphasized a stronger focus on preparing students for career decision making and planning. The dot-com boom in the 1990s reengaged employers on college campuses and created a stronger employer relations focus in career centers. Emerging technologies and social media advanced this networking paradigm in the 2000s to a new level of connectedness for students and employers, as well as alumni, faculty and families (Dey & Real, 2010). Today, all signs point to an integrated model of customized connections and communities that extends the responsibility of college employability beyond the walls of career centers, which typically exist on the periphery of the campus community, to an ecosystem that fully engages the entire university network of students, alumni, faculty, employers, families, and surrounding communities.
Socio-economic changes, technological advances, and generational trends are the impetus behind the recent emerging paradigm shift in college career services. The more successful career services leaders will be those who are able to recognize these trends and act swiftly to transform their campus programs. Our colleagues, Manny Contomanolis and Trudy Steinfeld have summarized these transformative environmental conditions best in their post on Thriving in the Brave New World of Career Services.
The mission of the career center of the future will be to build meaningful connections through partnerships and develop career communities of learners and networkers that engage students and alumni for a lifetime. Based on historical trends, the transformation in college career services post 2008 is inevitable, but it requires intentional planning and collaborative engagement by all stakeholders involved. Using Casella’s (1990) original framework and its various adaptations (Dey & Real, 2010), Figure 2 further illustrates the evolution and future trends of career services in higher education (click to enlarge).
10 Future Trends in College Career Services
Our observations of emerging and future trends are based on a careful review of national data, recent articles, conference presentations, and anecdotes from our own professional connections and consulting with institutions from around the US. Although the common theme in these trends is around making students’ employability central to all connected campus communities, each institution must adapt its model to its culture, strategic priorities, and resources.
- Elevated Career Services. More colleges are elevating their career centers and giving their career services leadership increased institutional influence and the ability to convene internal and external stakeholders in order to help students leverage the power of the university network. To the best of our knowledge, Wake Forest is the only institution with a VP of Personal and Professional Development who serves on the President’s cabinet. Several other schools, including Boston College, Franklin & Marshall, Stanford, University of Chicago, University of South Florida, University of Virginia, and William & Mary have broadened the scope of their career services leadership and upgraded their titles to AVP, VP, Dean, and Associate Dean. While leaders, regardless of titles, need to exercise savvy leadership to gain buy-in and demonstrate value, positional power adds a layer of systemic and organizational support that is also necessary to elevate career services in higher education over time.
- Moves & Mergers. While reporting to student affairs is still most common, a number of institutions have moved and/or merged their career centers with other areas, including academic advising, enrollment management, alumni relations, and advancement. Wesleyan University and Rochester Institute of Technology are among the few schools that have lived outside of student affairs for over a decade, reporting to advancement and enrollment management respectively. Other recent examples include Seattle University’s career services merging with academic advising, University of Chicago career advancement moving to enrollment management, University of Richmond’s career services moving to alumni relations, and University of California-San Diego’s career center moving to advancement. To be successful, such changes in reporting structures must be handled carefully, with the full consideration of institutional circumstances and engagement of all stakeholders, and without compromising the integrity of our professional standards.
- Money, Space, and People. With greater visibility and accountability, institutions that recognize the value of career services have started to increase the amount of resources allocated. These resources come in the form of additional positions, increased operational funds, grants or seed money to start new initiatives, and fundraising support for new or renovated space that is prominently located on-campus. Over the course of the past few years, schools like St. John’s University, Texas A&M, William & Mary, University of California-Berkley, and University of Miami have built state of the art career centers to welcome their employers, students, alumni, and donors. Institutions like New York University, University of Virginia, Stanford, and Florida State University are adding a significant number of new positions to better meet the needs of their constituents and produce more career-ready graduates.
- Ecosystem Rather than Place. The days of career services simply being a brick-and-mortar center are over. Today, career services must become a presence that permeates the institutional culture and experience. The success of our students remains a responsibility shared by the full university community. In order for this type of ecosystem to be developed, career professionals must recognize the opportunity to activate the large and complex network that exists on a college campus in order to connect key stakeholders. Career services can leverage the university network to bring everyone together to connect and collaborate in an environment where trust and influence can lead to opportunity and success.
- Customized Connections & Communities. The primary purpose of career services in this next era is to build connections and communities for a stronger network that promotes students’ success. Recent examples of connections and communities models include George Mason, Stanford, William & Mary, and Miami University of Ohio. At Stanford, frequent career meet-ups, which are informal guided discussion circles led by career counselors who are assigned to various student communities, are replacing the traditional workshops and presentations. George Mason’s customized connector model has allowed for better preparation of students and alumni and stronger facilitation of meaningful connections between students, employers, alumni, and faculty. By focusing on authentic relationships with stakeholders, career services professionals can transform their offices into hubs of connectivity and provide more tailored advice, strategy, and feedback to their constituents.
- Chaos and Happenstance. In this new hyperactive era of career connections, the new strategy for college career centers is to help students lure chance out of hiding (Krumboltz & Levin, 2004) by pursuing curiosity, taking risks, being persistent, flexible, optimistic, and embracing chaos and uncertainty as part of the career development process. Developing networks and communities, and encouraging students to connect and try new things will be critical to a successful implementation of happenstance and chaos theories in career services.
- Outcomes. The conversation about return on investment (ROI) and value of higher education has never been more prominent. New measures of success for career services will involve first and lifelong destination data, reputation, and engagement of key stakeholders. A strong focus on assessment and alignment with university strategic goals is critical in showcasing our value at the institutional level. NACE’s First-Destination Survey Standards and Protocols (NACE, 2014) provide guidelines to help institutions collect data in a more standardized manner. Career centers are also finding creative and visual ways to display assessment data in order to better connect with various audiences. Universities such as Carnegie Mellon, George Mason, and University of Florida have replaced their long annual reports with dynamic infographics that give life to data and tell the university’s story in a powerful way.
- Buzz Worthiness. The question must be asked – if we produce great work but no one knows about it, did it really happen? Branding career services is critical and vital to the success of a center and to the user experience. Wake Forest has been successful at creating buzz on-campus and nationally for their career services approach. Many other institutions like Rutgers and University of Miami do an excellent job of understanding the needs and wants of their stakeholders and integrating their brand strategies through every point of public contact. Brand and Marketing Manager is a necessary position in today’s career center as the ability to create buzz and an authentic brand elevates the profession on-campus and nationally. An effective brand resides within the hearts and minds of our students, employers, alumni, faculty, families, and many other stakeholders. It becomes the sum total of their experiences and perceptions.
- New Technology. Social media has changed the landscape of service delivery, engagement, and meaning of connectivity among community members. New platforms like CollegeFeed, RecSolu, Handshake, MindSumo, and Mounza have emerged to complement the connectivity efforts of career services and extend our reach beyond traditional databases that manage schedules, on-campus recruiting, and career fairs. As the economy continues to improve, we will see more startups emerge in the career services ecosystem, and our approach should be to treat them as viable players rather than threats. The more successful career centers will be the ones that are willing to be early adopters, take risks, and give emerging technologies a chance.
- New Breed of Professionals. A paradigm shift in college career services requires career staff to not only upgrade their skills and knowledge, but also change their attitudes and philosophy about the new needs of their stakeholders and how to help students transition from college to career. The new emphasis on connections and communities requires an identity shift from counselor to group facilitator and expert consultant. On most campuses, traditional workshops and information sessions may no longer help extend the career center’s reach. Instead, career staff must think of less formal and more interactive programs that take place in popular “hot spots” around campus and engage students frequently in their communities. Rather than a strategy of basic promotions, they must create a brand for themselves and their department. Customized connections and self-sufficient communities will be the new way of doing business, and new assessments will measure reputation, engagement, and destination outcomes rather than learning outcomes, attendance, and appointment counts. To be successful, career center staff must become agile content experts and network catalysts who will lead communities and develop meaningful connections among their constituents. Figure 3 illustrates the contrast between the pre and post 2010 career services staff.
Leading Change in College Career Services
This is an exciting time for career services in higher education. Similar to the last four paradigm shifts in the twentieth century, leading the way in this critical transformation requires additional resources, an elevation of leadership in career centers to increase influence, new and creative organizational structures, and stronger coordinated campus partnerships. Most importantly, transforming college career services requires courage from leaders of career centers to listen to their constituents and lead change, presidents and provosts to elevate and invest in this movement, vice presidents to support and trust their career services experts, campus partners to coordinate efforts together rather than protect turfs, students to engage and take ownership of their success, alumni and families to give back, and national associations in higher education to advocate for support and resources. The time to reinvent college career services is now.
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Casella, D. A (1990). Career networking – The Newest Career Center Paradigm. Journal of Career Planning & Employment, Summer 1990, 45(3), p. 33-39.
Krumboltz, J.D. & Levin, A.S. (2004). Luck is No Accident: Making the Most of Happenstance in Your Life and Career. Atascadero, CA: Impact Publishers.
Pope, M., (2000). A Brief History of Career Counseling in the United States. Career Development Quarterly, March 2000, V. 48, p. 194-211.