Career centers across the nation are now expected to produce quantifiable results to respond to those challenging the worth and merit of a college degree—more times than not with the same resources. A multitude of angles is challenging the worth of a college degree. Institutions are placing greater focus on retention and graduation with an emphasis on career readiness. The expectation to provide data driven results can vary depending on the type of institution in which you serve.
State legislators are decreasing state appropriations, institutions are adopting different funding models, and colleges and universities are being pushed to enroll more students regardless of their college preparedness. How do these things affect the career center? The impact shows up differently at depending on the institution type. Small (4-Year) Private
On the bright side, smaller institutions provide more student interaction for career services personnel. No matter the title, the majority of career center staff perform dual roles and support career advising in the form drop-ins and appointments. Further, it is possible for a growing professional to get a well-rounded experience at a smaller institution. The ability to collaborate, provide career advising, host employers, and facilitate presentations is highly useful in creating future leaders. Individuals planning to grow in the career services profession should consider starting at a small career center and scaling up.
Several challenges exist for professionals within this particular setting. Career center staff members at small institutions, by nature of the setting, are often times in over their heads. Minimal budgets do not allow for the acquisition of expensive technologies and resources used at larger institutions. Another struggle is the collection, analyzation, and distribution of first-destination survey (FDS) outcomes. Career centers must collect career outcomes, but unfortunately, at smaller institutions, there is nothing standardized to support the collection of that information. Lastly, staff can feel stretched, having to maintain and balance multiple roles. As a result, staff members experience minimal self-care and low workplace morale. Pros:
- More student interaction
- Diversified professional experience in career services
Medium (4-Year) Public
- Minimal budget
- Lacking process for the first destination survey
- Low staff optimization
In many instances, career centers at mid-sized institutions are centralized, without independent units supporting business or engineering students. As a result, leadership can guide the vision for career readiness and outcomes for the institution as a whole. Secondly, additional staff allows for some specialization. Although individuals will continue to support each other, the ability to become an expert in career advising, employer relations, internships, co-ops, or on-campus student employment is more significant. Lastly, having a larger budget allows for the use of technology to streamline career center operations and collect FDS data.
Contrarily, career centers at medium-size institutions find it harder to attract high profile employers. More prominent brands are less likely to spend their recruitment dollars on attending career fairs at medium-sized institutions. Secondly, it can be challenging to make the career outcomes an institutional priority because of the size of the institution. Career centers that are not included in the institutional strategic plan will find it difficult to scale and grow. Lastly, the ability of leadership to manage personnel conflict becomes increasingly important. With the slight increase in staff members, it is paramount to understand personality and leadership types. Pros:
- Centralized career center model
- More specialization in staff functions
- Increased budget and funding sources
Large (4-Year) Public
- Depending on location, can struggle to recruit high-profile employers
- Institutional career outcome priority limitations
- Increase in personnel conflict management
The large public institution has a multitude of benefits not experienced by the aforementioned small- and medium-size institutions. First, you will notice more resources directed at career readiness. Staff members across campus will be in charge of internships, co-ops, on-campus student employment, and the entire career center. Second, the institution usually has a system in place to collect career outcomes, which results in greater organizational efficiency. Lastly, one of the most crucial benefits is the freedom to be innovative and think creatively without worrying about the pressures of limited resources.
While one would leap at the opportunity to be employed at a large institution, there are several challenges that exist. As mentioned, there are more personnel contributing to the career success of students, but many times there is no shared vision. More times than not, you will work within a decentralized career services model, with career centers spread out across campus without a leader to guide efforts for all. Secondly, the larger an institution, the more complex relationship building becomes. The larger the university, the more seclusion, making it challenging to come together. Lastly, the most challenging element of career services at a large public institution is the management of employer relationships. When several career centers are spread across campus an internal competition for employers and future employees (students) is the end result. Pros:
- More human resources directed at career outcomes
- Systems in place to collect first destination outcomes
- Increased resources available to facilitate career development
- Decentralized (distributed) career center model
- Building relationships with influencers on campus
- Employer recruitment scalability
Concerning career services, there are pros and cons at every level. The obstacles experienced at small institutions may very well be in play at large institutions. Regardless, the work must go on, and students must be career ready no matter the circumstances. Whatever level you may find yourself, know that your colleagues across the nation are experiencing the same obstacles. In the end career centers everywhere will continue play a key role in retention and graduation outcomes. In closing, continue to have a positive impact on people. Continue pressing forward. You are doing great work.