Career centers in the higher education ecosystem have traditionally been known as the office where students go to seek advice from counselors about their long-term career plans.
Yet, fewer than 20% of undergraduates reach out to their school’s career centers for advice on finding jobs or identifying and applying to graduate programs, although such advice ranks among a center’s most valuable services, according to a 2017 Strada-Gallup survey.
As the global economy reels from the impact of months of lockdown due to COVID19, career outcomes as a consequence of a college degree matter far more.
Unfortunately, data from NACE gathered since the pandemic began, shows that 17% of career centers report that their budgets have been reduced by more than 10% for fall 2020, versus last year.
So how can career centers prove their worth to universities and establish themselves as an important driver of student enrollment?
Career centers need to be focused on making investments that clearly translate to employment outcomes for students.
Corporate America is increasingly demanding work experience prior to graduation. A high GPA and a strong academic track record might have been enough to receive a job offer straight out of college in the past, but today’s employers are more keen to see evidence that a candidate has problem-solving and communication skills and some real work experience before committing to a full-time hire.
This means that career centers at high schools and colleges need to establish themselves as the best pathway to high-quality work experience opportunities for students.
Career centers of the future will be called upon to take greater responsibility in matching students with internships and forming partnerships with industry to bring experiential learning opportunities to the student body, while “support services” like resume-editing and career counseling sessions will become increasingly redundant.
Securing a first internship is a struggle for all students, but those who don’t hail from backgrounds that have given them the social capital and networking opportunities to get a recruiter to take a second look at their resumes must rely almost entirely on career centers providing them with access to employers or pay for third-party resources like consultants or recruiters.
While the role of career centers has been evolving for some years now, 2020 has made it very clear that they need to think well beyond putting internship postings on the school job portal in order to truly contribute value.
With many internships being cancelled due to COVID19, career centers that already have established virtual work experience projects for their students were best equipped to support them in the ways they needed. Moreover, as the world gravitates towards a new normal of remote work, career centers that recognize their students need opportunities to demonstrate to future employers that they possess remote work skills stand a better chance of making their student body more attractive to campus recruiters. As companies grow culturally and geographically diverse, colleges need to play a role in preparing the future generation of employees to work alongside remote team members from around the world.
In order to stay competitive, career centers must move away from a broadly advisory role and actively seek ways to provide all students with access to experiential learning experiences that will one day become a mainstay of the overall university experience.
Even with limited budgets, career centers can leverage alumni networks or invest in internship, externship, work shadowing, apprenticeship and/or co-op programs that can help close the opportunity gap for students of all backgrounds.
An active move towards investing in better career support for students also stands to benefit schools themselves in the long run. Students who feel supported beyond the academic setting, in areas like mental health and career services, feel more emotionally connected to the school community and are more likely to be active in alumni philanthropy.
A career center with a reputation for truly delivering career outcomes also helps boost enrollment numbers at universities.
Over 80% of students say that getting a job is a key factor in their decision to attend university - one can only imagine that number rising in a world teetering on the brink of an economic downturn.