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A business approach to college and career readiness for university career centers

Posted by Devinee Fitzgerald on Aug 12, 2018 8:18:32 PM
Devinee Fitzgerald
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For university career centers, a high job placement rate has traditionally been the most important measure of college and career readiness. But recently, students have reported feeling shortchanged by their education.

According to Gallup Purdue Index 2016, around 86 percent of college freshman say they go to college to get a good job, yet recent grads feel less prepared for a career than ever. Likewise, fewer employers believe college grads are equipped for their open positions.

In his 2013 TED Talk, Andy Chan explained the solution he implemented at Wake Forest. Chan started by dropping the ‘service’ terminology. He advocates for creating a college and career readiness journey. Chan wants students to learn to navigate for themselves throughout their four years in school regardless of major.

For students and alumni, satisfaction with career services is more complicated than the job placement rate. While it might be crude to think of a university as a degree factory, the university does make a business promise to students. By accepting tuition, the university implies it will provide value for the students.

Business leaders use terms such as ‘return on investment’ and ‘quality assurance’ to deal with similar challenges. What can university career centers learn from the world of business?

In business, students feeling shortchanged by their universities would be an ROI issue.

 Photo courtesy Clem Onojeghuo.

Measures the gain or loss generated on an investment relative to the amount of money invested

From 2006 to 2016 the Consumer Price Index for college tuition increased by 63 percent. But only 50 percent of graduates perceived a positive return on investment. This seems like a task traditionally handled by university career services. Since just about 52 percent of all surveyed in the Gallup Purdue Index recalled visiting the career center as a student, there's likely more factors at play.

Could it be a brand image problem on the part of the university career centers? Of the 52 percent who remembered visiting the career center, only 16 percent found it helpful. With so few satisfied customers, it is unlikely that an effectual number of students refer their peers. The Gallup study concluded that it isn't enough to get students to visit the career center, they must also have a quality experience.

The needle mover for return on investment in business is often to address customer service.

 Photo courtesy Mike Wilson.

All interactions between a customer and a product provider at the time of sale and thereafter. Customer service adds value to a product and builds an enduring relationship. 

Most business leaders agree that it costs more to get a new customer than to keep one. This truth saves companies money and shapes customer service relationships. Companies invest in the customer experience to make customers happier and more loyal. These customers, in turn, become life-long purchasers and brand ambassadors.

The same concept applies to the college and career readiness.

It costs more to bring in personnel than to identify key partners already in your network. Some universities are turning to their happily-employed alumni to mentor current students.

Thus, the impact of career center support goes beyond the years students spend on campus. This is especially true if students learn to create a professional network for themselves.

A business would try to improve customer service by tracking it through quality assurance measures.

 Photo courtesy Victoria Heath.

A program for the systematic monitoring and evaluation of the various aspects of a project, service, or facility to ensure that standards of quality are being met.

But is your university set up to track quality interactions? University career services professionals can take action immediately by measuring standards of quality. For example, start by defining what a positive interaction means for students as freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors.

Topics: Trends & Insights, Placement Rate, Career Readiness