Is Career Services Helpful? Expectations, Resources, and the Gallup Findings


Author
Mark Presnell, Ph.D, Executive Director, Northwestern Career Advancement

Published
February 9, 2017


Every year, there are a few key articles and blog posts that end up in my inbox dozens of times.  These articles resonate with administrators, faculty, alumni, and students and seem to cut to the very core of our work.  This past year, many of those articles were about the Gallup report entitled “Great Jobs. Great Lives. The Value of Career Services Inclusive Experiences and Mentorship for College Graduates.”  Let’s take a deeper look at the data included and what it might mean for our work.

Most of the press articles focused on the low percentage of recent graduates that reported career services to be very helpful.  At just 17%, it was an easy headline – another example of colleges, universities, and career services offices not supporting graduates’ success.   

How helpful was the career services office to you? Among those who reported visiting the office.

Up to 1949

1950-1959

1960-1969

1970-1979

1980-1989

1990-1999

2000-2009

2010-2016

Total

% Very helpful

30

24

21

16

17

18

13

17

16

% Helpful

14

33

34

30

26

25

26

26

27

% Somewhat helpful

5

31

33

37

36

35

36

37

36

% Not at all helpful

25

6

6

12

15

16

18

17

16

% Don't know/Cannot recall

26

5

6

5

5

7

7

3

5

The reaction from our field was mixed.  Many who are very forward thinking saw this data as another example of the importance of shifting our model of services.  After all, career services are becoming a university priority, not just the goal of a specific department.  Others in our field were frustrated by the data – they felt as though their repeated efforts to assist students seemed unsuccessful and this was just another example of the criticism of our work without fully understanding the mission.  For me, this data not only supports both of these views, but it also outlines the significant challenges that lie ahead in our profession.  Before we look at additional data, it is important for us to reflect a bit on the chart above and recognize that 80% of recent grads found career services helpful on some level.  The recent trend is also positive, with a 4% increase of recent graduates indicating that career services were very helpful.  I believe that we should continue to focus on how we can be more helpful to our students while acknowledging the value of our current work.

To dig a bit deeper, let’s look at the Gallup data that reports on visits to career services offices. 

While attending [UNIVERSITY NAME], did you visit the career services office at least once?

Up to 1949

1950-1959

1960-1969

1970-1979

1980-1989

1990-1999

2000-2009

2010-2016

Total

% Yes

30

30

35

40

52

53

55

61

52

% No

44

52

49

44

33

33

33

32

36

% Don't know/Cannot recall

26

18

15

16

14

14

11

7

12

This also provides us more context as we look at helpfulness.  Over the course of the last 60 years, individuals “visiting” the career service office have more than doubled and continue to increase.  So why would more students use a service that they don’t rate as very helpful?  Perhaps it is a reflection of their reasons for attending college – we know that the number of students who report that they attend college to increase their employment opportunities continues to grow.  However, I would also surmise that students may be using career services more because, on some level, they find them helpful.  To me, this data shows that our services are helpful to students, but need to continue to evolve. 

 There is one more important piece of information to consider.  It comes from a 2015 National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) report on the resources available for career services.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t represent data as far back as the Gallup report, but it does give us a window into how the support of our work has changed. 

http://www.naceweb.org/uploadedImages/Pages/knowledge/journal/j022015/koc-figure1.pngThe NACE data clearly indicates that financial support for career services operating budgets has decreased from 2007 to 2014.  For example, schools with enrollments of less than 1,000 students reported an operating budget reduction of 42.6 % between 2007 and 2014.  NACE also noted a drop in staff salaries over the same period.  Critics will say that the economic recession led to some of these declines.  However, with economic recovery, resources across all colleges have not returned to career centers.  The findings from the same report were mixed regarding changes in the number of staff members; smaller schools were more likely to see an increase in staff, while staff numbers at larger schools declined.  The net result across many different campuses is a reduction in resources.

If we look at the Gallup and NACE data together, we get a picture of the increasing demand for service and the reduction of financial resources available.  Helpfulness, may be a product of the expectations and resources available.  Given that resources are declining and expectations are increasing perhaps a finding that only 17% of graduates found career services very helpful is not surprising.  Many career services offices are already attuned to these realities, yet the Gallup data begins to document the effects of the mismatch of resources and expectations.  These are the market forces that have led to both the emphasis on innovation within our field, as well as the frustration we may feel when others fail to see the success of our work. 

Increasing expectations and decreasing resources seem like logical explanations for lower “very helpful” percentages.  However, additional factors may also contribute.  As colleges and universities commit to institutional approaches to career success, career services offices may actually receive less “credit” from students for their success.  Instead, that credit will be split among the students themselves, faculty, classes, and others.  Additionally, as distance-based and skills-based recruiting continues to expand, companies will be less reliant on career services offices and traditional recruiting methods.  Thus, career services offices may also be perceived as less than very helpful. 

For now, we can and should continue to focus on the evolution of our services and the acquisition of the resources necessary for the success of our students.  To me, this is the key question.  Do the resources match the expectations?  Resources can and should be defined broadly, and include funding, institutional support, and connectivity with alumni, among others.  Collaboration across college and university departments allows resources to be stretched farther to attain key objectives.  Technology can also serve to increase our impact while minimizing costs.  Finally, close cooperation between alumni relations and development will assist colleges and universities both in defining expectations and increasing resources.

What are your best practices to change expectations or increase resources for career services?


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