If You Build It, They Will Come; But Will It Be Good?

By Darryl Ann Lai Fang posted 02-06-2018 08:16


In a day and age where institutions are seeking to improve not only how they graduate students, but how they prepare them for the work force, institutions must consider their strategies for career services. Institutions must also determine if they are working in a manner that is best suited for the institution and the overall success of the student.

A 2016 Gallup-Purdue University Index Report noted that “61 percent of students who graduated between 2010 and 2016 said that they’ve visited a career center at least once [on their campus].” On the surface, this sounds great and it seems that students are finally learning to take advantage of the resources made available to them by their college or university. There is clearly progress being made as this same report noted that in 2000 and 2009 students who graduated visited their career services office at a rate of 55 and 35 percent respectively.

However, the real question that needs to be asked is, are career services offices providing students with the necessary resources (i.e., skills, tools, and training) to be successful and marketable in a 21st century work force? Furthermore, how are institutions accessing the effectiveness of these offices? How do we know that the career services office is doing a stellar job?

Many institutional leaders long for the day that their institution’s career services office is well attended and used by the students on their campus. To achieve this, many leaders continue to provide resources in the form of increased funding and personnel without effectively noting if this is the most effective method to increase success. The idea is ultimately, that if we invest in this area of our institutions, at some point, students will show up.

This reminds me of the 1989 movie “Field of Dreams.” In this movie an Iowa corn farmer, played by Kevin Costner, followed a mystical voice directing him to build a baseball diamond in his cornfield. The voice told him that if he builds it, baseball heroes from time past will play in this field and fulfill a lifelong dream.

Institutions are also trying to fulfill lifelong dreams for their career services departments. They feel that the more resources they add to career services, the more students will use the services and be positively impacted by the department. Institutions consistently add both financial resources or human capital to career services to ramp up visibility and the number of students they can assist annually. 

It’s almost like the character Ray Kinsella is saying in Field of Dreams, “I have just created something totally illogical." Should we also start considering that maybe we are building something that is illogical. Quora states that, “Illogical thinking refers to specific logical 'bugs' in a rationalization exercise. The patient is asked to explain a behavior (his/her own or someone else’s). When their reasoning is intelligible and clearly seems perfectly rational overall, any small logical bug sticks out as a sore thumb. These bugs come in the form of basic logical fallacies like ‘guilt by association’, ‘false equivalency’….” Therefore, maybe rational for building out career services centers make sense; however, the reasoning for doing it is inexplicable. 

According to Inside Higher Ed, “Today’s students are more likely to visit career centers than past graduates, but less likely to rate those interactions as very helpful, a new Gallup-Purdue University study finds.” Institutions are building career services, but not making it better. Yes, more students are visiting the department, but they are not happy with the services. It almost seems like we are hoping the traditional role of career services, will make everything acceptable. “It’s a part of our past, it reminds us of all that once was good.” But is it good?

 “Only 17 percent of those who graduated from 2010 to 2016 said they found their college career centers to be “very helpful,” with another 26 percent reporting that the career office was “helpful.” Less than 40 percent said they found career centers to be “somewhat helpful,” and 17 percent said the interactions were not helpful at all.”  So, we build it; they came; but it was not good. It did not meet the expectations of the students, which are career services primary customer. 

According to NACE’s 2017 Student Survey, “85.6 percent of students who had begun the job search had visited the career center—either at the office or on its website—at least once in the past academic year; in other words, only 14.4 percent had no engagement with the career center whatsoever.”  This is wonderful news for the career services; however, the question still exists; how useful was the visit? (Chart below is from the 2017 Student Survey. Click on the chart to make it larger.)

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 The answer to this question is too long to go into this blog. I will explore answers to this question in additional blogs. Before we pour additional finances and human resources into career services, we first must reshape and rethink career service centers and the role they play in higher education. We must consider definitive approaches like guided pathways, intentional curriculum enhancement, and integrated co-curricular engagements, and how these approaches can work together with career services. Let’s think clearly about the qualitative effect of career services and where to go from here.