Career Services: Death Is Not an Option

Kelli Smith Director of University Career Services at the Fleish

Kelli K. Smith, Director of University Career Services, Fleishman Center for Career and Professional Development, Binghamton University

Career services must live! Transform. Perhaps change its name.

If you are in the field of career services, you may have watched Wake Forest’s Andy Chan in a TED Talk, “Career Services Must Die,” recorded nearly two years ago. When Andy Chan and Wake Forest are discussed among colleagues, I hear responses ranging from, “They are doing some great things there,” to “Did you see the size of their staff?,” to “At least now people are actually paying attention to us,” to “Did you know that the university president committed millions of dollars to enhance their career programs before Chan arrived?”

Let me be clear. I have enormous respect for what is occurring at Wake Forest. I am excited about much of the work being done there and what the “Rethinking Success” movement has spurred within our field. I have been particularly inspired by their work in partnering with faculty and other campus entities, and by their commitment to undergraduate students’ professional development and success.

It is a fascinating time within our field. An #Elev8CS movement has begun on Twitter, and some colleagues call this “The Golden Age of Career Services.” It is not surprising to see director roles elevated in title and positional power at institutions as we are finally recognized for our direct link to recruitment, retention, and revenue. At the same time, at nearly all of our professional conferences, an expectation for transformation by campus leadership is clearly the underlying theme. This began to happen before the president’s College Scorecard focus on college outcomes  developed.

It may well be time for the typical name and nomenclature of “career services” to be buried. Yet, I worry the clearly attention-grabbing title of “Career Services Must Die” alone has prompted many in leadership positions at universities, particularly at large universities, to look critically at career services on their campuses without having the slightest idea of what career services does day-in and day-out.

This is the case even though research has indicated “getting a better job” is a top reason among prospective students for going to college.

Prior to Chan’s TED Talk and the College Scorecard initiative, many in our field believed top university leaders gave little, if any, attention to their career centers. It is critical that people understand a major reason why Wake Forest has been so successful in its transformation is that the university’s president made career development a priority, elevated the director role to a vice-president role and a direct report, assigned executive-level compensation to the position, and infused the career services team with millions of dollars to support their transformation effort.

In addition, according to the Rethinking Success website, Wake Forest raised more than $10 million to invest in their “college-to-career” efforts—with one result being the staff size quadrupled. Growing and elevating career services on a campus is much different than expecting departments to do more with less, or even more with the same.

Meanwhile, many of us at large public institutions feel we are being compared to Wake Forest, yet we are in a vastly different situation with regard to resources and positional power to have decision-making and a “seat at the table” granted by university leadership.

While Wake Forest had significant funds to assist in their transformation from the beginning, many public universities operate on very small budgets while serving relatively large populations of prospective students, current students, and alumni. And some have felt a reduction in resources over time, rather than an increase.

While (thankfully) the average career services operating budget has increased since 2012, still some campuses report decreases in in their budget than those reporting increases according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers. At the same time, the national average students-per-staff ratio is 2,672 students per staff member; personalized attention for all students is simply not possible in such situations.

The significant focus finally placed our profession’s work within the last couple of years, prompted in large part by both Wake Forest and the College Scorecard, is promising. It has spurred innovation and change. I am convinced preparation of our students to enter the world of work will be bettered, and in the end, that is why those of us in my profession go to work every day.

We are ready for the expectations for change. My hope is that universities—public and private—put  resources behind their desire for transformation. It would not be fair to our students today or tomorrow.

I argue our field does not need to die, but rather needs attention and true support to become a university priority. While not yet ideal, I do feel fortunate for my own situation. In addition to the remarkable student profile of our public institution, a main reason I was willing to move my family across the country was because Binghamton recently built a new, state-of-the-art career center in the heart of campus, made possible by one of our alums. I also have a Vice President for Student Affairs who understands and values our work, supports the changes our team has made, and advocates for additional staffing resources. Stories of others in similar situations are more commonplace, and hopefully this trend will continue for all types of institutions across the country.

What’s happening on your campus?


NACE Flash Poll: Is “Career” in Your Institution’s Curriculum?

kevin grubbNACE Ambassador Kevin Grubb
Assistant Director at Villanova University’s Career Center.
Twitter: @kevincgrubb
Blog: “social @ edu”

One of the latest trends in career services is the establishment of a career or professional development class embedded into curriculum. Courses may be required, optional, for credit or non-credit bearing. With the importance of career outcomes rising for colleges and universities, this is a new possible solution for providing career education to all students.

NACE blog readers, is “career” in your institution’s curriculum? Share your answer in this poll and tell us about your career course in a comment. What do you teach and how do you do it?

For more information on this topic, check out NACE’s Career Course Syllabi.

Outcomes Data: Let’s Own the Opportunity Ahead

Marilyn MackesMarilyn Mackes, Executive Director
National Association of Colleges and Employers
Twitter: @NACEMarilyn

There is very little these days that policy makers agree on—no big news there. The BIG NEWS is that our profession has an opportunity to lead in an area that many in the public and private sectors do care about and will most certainly impact the work we do in the future.

What is it that the President and legislators in both parties agree on? The need for detailed outcomes data about college graduates and their first destinations after receiving their degrees.

In 2013 we saw a number of federal and state initiatives launched to meet the growing demand for accountability and transparency about college outcomes.

  • In February 2013 in his State of the Union Address, President Obama introduced the College Scorecard designed to provide data on affordability, value and employment potential by institution.
  •  According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, nearly 20 states have moved formally to performance-based funding for higher education institutions and the majority of states report interest in doing so.
  • Numerous efforts from both parties are being proposed by federal lawmakers to collect and report data about the value of education and the specific first destinations of college graduates.

What does this tell us? The demand for hard data is real and the expectation for data delivery is imminent. The time is NOW if our profession wishes to lead in determining how we can best collect and report data about college graduates and develop the means to do so.

In January at our Advocacy Mashup in Washington D.C., NACE will be releasing Guidelines for First Destination Surveys, developed and reviewed by NACE members. More than 150 members provided commentary and recommendations related to the formulation of these guidelines.

Those attending the Mashup will have the opportunity to discuss the scope and content of the Guidelines as well as consider how to strengthen the data collection and reporting for their institutions. They will also look at how we as a profession can come together to meet the demands being placed upon us externally for accountability and compliance. We hope you can be part of that conversation—but if you can’t, it won’t end there. We look forward to engaging our members in this discussion on an ongoing basis and encourage your participation in the future.

Let’s make sure we don’t let others pave the way for what is certain to happen. Let’s create opportunity and strengthen the role of our profession as we come together to provide high quality and timely data about the outcomes of our graduates.

For more information about the Mashup or to register, go to