Demonstrate your institution’s commitment to student outcomes

Matt Berndt & Mark Schappert (about the authors)

Institutional accountability for college student outcomes is a top priority from the kitchen table to the White House. Students and their parents are scrutinizing the return on investment in higher education and are looking for data to inform their decision-making. The White House College Scorecard, the Rubio-Wyden Student Right to Know Before You Go Act and the DOE’s Title IV Federal Student Aid Programs – Gainful Employment in a Recognized Profession Proposed Rule illustrate clearly that all colleges and universities must prepare to respond more effectively to increased demand for student career readiness outcomes and student outcomes data.

Along with increasing expectations regarding career readiness, enrollment pressures are being felt on many campuses. Some schools are responding by investing in new, state-of-the-art facilities and a plethora of student activities to attract prospective students and engage and retain current students. Some are investing in new academic programs. Unfortunately, very few schools have increased their investment in student career services.

For many years, student career readiness services (career guidance and counseling, internship assistance, resume writing and interviewing skill development, job search coaching, graduate school admissions advising, etc.) have been viewed on many college campuses as vocational and non-essential to an academic education.

This is simply not true. Career readiness instruction and services do not diminish the value of academics, they actually enhance academic learning. Student career preparation, including internships and other forms of career education, allow students to explore their career options and apply the knowledge and skills they gain through their academic studies.

So, we pose this question to college presidents everywhere: Where do career readiness and student outcomes fit into your institution’s strategic plan?

If experiential learning and career services are not on your institution’s radar screen now, they should be. If you are not collecting first destination outcomes data on your graduates, you should be.

College leadership must recognize that integrated experiential learning complements academic learning, that integrated career services help students connect the dots between theory and practice, ultimately equipping students to manage their careers after college, and that valid and reliable data on what students do when they graduate is necessary for defending the value proposition for a college education.

Connecting the dots between college and career is important to your students. It should be important to you, as well.

Prospective students and their parents are no longer just asking “what can I do with this major?” They are asking “what can I do with this major, how much will I earn, how soon after graduation will I get a job, and how is the university going to help?” The expectations that colleges will provide a quality academic education AND career preparation are growing faster than tuition is increasing.

Significant career preparation occurs naturally in some majors – education, accounting, social work and engineering, to name a few. They are “round peg” majors for “round hole” careers. Many more majors do not tie directly to specific career paths. How is your institution assisting those students whose majors and career interests do not fit nicely into “round hole” careers paths? How does your institution help these students answer the question – “What Can I Do with My Major?” How strongly does it support all students in launching their careers? To what extent do you gather data on your graduates’ first destinations and make that data available to prospective students and their parents?

When your institution admits students, accepts their tuition and facilitates their financial aid, you take on a certain responsibility. You do not owe students jobs. You do not have to show a dollar-for-dollar return on their financial investment. You do not have to offer any guarantees. You should offer a quality education, and integral to a quality education is experiential education, career exploration and career readiness preparation.

At your next meetings with the Deans, Vice Presidents and Trustees, ask this question:

How important to our mission is the post-graduation success of our students?

If it is important, do something about it.

Incorporate career readiness into your institutional strategic plan. Resource student career services appropriately. Make experiential education and career readiness instruction graduation requirements. Gather first destination outcomes data on your graduates.

Take these steps, and your institution will be poised to thrive in the era of higher education accountability. Ignore it, and many of your students will continue to graduate underprepared to enter the job market, and your institution will continue to fall short of student, parent and legislator expectations for higher education.

Students expect to be well educated AND well prepared to enter the workforce. Their parents and state and federal legislators expect the same. Colleges and universities that meet these expectations will thrive; those that do not will likely suffer.

Matt Berndt is vice president of CSO Research Inc. in Austin, TX and a strong advocate for student career development, earning him the moniker “career services evangelist”. Previously, Matt was director of career services at the University of Texas at Austin College of Communication. Mark Schappert worked in career services for Le Moyne College in Syracuse, NY for over 20 years prior to joining The Outcomes Survey team as a business development manager for the northeast U.S. region. Combined, Matt and Mark have more than 40 years of experience in university career services and student affairs, employment and workforce development.