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?