Career centers used to be a place that students stopped by in the spring of their senior year when they were panicked that they hadn’t yet lined up their first gig for after graduation. They’d work with counselors there to beef up their resume and line up interviews.
In recent years, however, the college career center has turned into a destination (both physically and online) for students before, throughout and after they’ve left school, as well as for college deans, marketers, and other stakeholders. More than 60 percent of students now visit their career services office, up from just over 50 percent a generation ago, according to Gallup.
One key driver of that shift is the emergence of big data, which has broadened the services that career centers can offer and made them far more valuable. Nearly all colleges now report on the placement of their students, and it’s become one of the most important key performance indicators in the industry, and career centers are typically the department responsible for collecting and analyzing that data. This is one reason why colleges are investing heavily in updating and modernizing their career centers. Technology has undergone a tremendous overhauled at many career centers in the past five years.
Since 2012, my company, 12Twenty, has been working with career centers to help them collect the big data that’s become so valuable. We provide schools with a pre-built webform that’s filled out by students, who’ve agreed to share their data. The career center can then put that information into a structured, sortable, and searchable database. The response from schools and students has been enormous, proving the transformational power of big data in higher education. In just five years, we’ve partnered with hundreds of academic programs throughout the country.
Here are three ways that big data is fueling that transformation:
1. Career centers have become a key part of the application and admission process. The rising cost of college tuition, growing student debt, and (until recently) a dismal job market for new graduates have put a spotlight on whether a college offers a return on investment. Many prospective students and parents now have an expectation that their school is going to prepare them for—and help them secure—a job after graduation. Otherwise, it’s not a good value proposition to go to college.
Schools need to provide proof that they can deliver this in order to even make it onto a student’s short list for applications. College career centers do that by providing specific data to potential students that illustrate how other students like them have fared after graduation.
The focus on college ROI has become an integral component on a growing number of high-profile college rankings lists, with at least a half dozen such lists incorporating graduates’ future earnings into their methodology. Universities are also using 12Twenty to gather and report more (and more-accurate) data from their students. Fordham University, for example, has enjoyed a more than 98 percent response rate on their student outcome survey, since switching to 12Twenty. That’s up from 50 to 60 percent on their previous survey.
Just as prospective students are looking at career center data, career center staff are using data to help the school make admissions decisions about those students. Career center professionals can now look at the profile of a student before she’s even started classes and begin guiding him toward the most successful path. What are the ways you can better integrate your data into your admissions story?
2. Contact between students and career centers is early and often.
A new, younger generation of career center professionals has re-positioned their departments to make their big data assets more accessible to students. Career services staff can look at longitudinal data to figure out what programs are working for which students, and adjust their efforts accordingly.
Before they ever set foot into the physical career center or chat with a counselor, interested students can log on and start using the data. Often that starts on day one, with incoming students spending time researching data, such as the starting salaries of recent graduates from their school, or to find out more about the career prospects of specific majors. How are you showcasing your data to students early in their process?
3, The job hunt is streamlined. For today’s busy students, combing through a career center’s jobs board with thousands of positions can be a time-consuming task. Using big data, however, students can filter job boards to glean intel on things like industry, location, and job function, to determine which roles might be the best fit for their skill set.
Perhaps even more valuable, they can use the salary data as ammo in negotiations with potential employers. Students are able to pinpoint exactly what a specific employer has recently paid for students with their degree from their school, giving them confidence to ask for a competitive salary when job offers come in.
At the UCLA Anderson School of Business, for example, female students using salary data collected by 12Twenty from previous classes began asking for more money from companies that they knew were paying their male peers more. Within two years, those students had eliminated the gender wage gap, according to the school. How can you better streamline access, and train your students on how to use your data in their job search negotiations?
What’s in the future? The next step that everyone is asking about is to start collecting data from students five or 10 years after graduation, allowing alumni to use the same data for salary negotiations throughout their career, rather than simply for their first job out of college. Make sure you are staying ahead of your Big Data!
Kenny Berlin is the CEO and CoFounder of 12Twenty, which was founded eight years ago with a vision to help universities streamline career services. He has an in-depth understanding of how career centers work and is passionate about using modern software to improve the experience for students, staff, and employers. Kenny has been in the tech space for over 10 years with experience in entrepreneurial environments as well as at top tech companies including Amazon.com. He has a BS in engineering from Tufts University, an MS in engineering from the University of Texas, and an MBA from the UCLA Anderson School of Management. The day the Phillies won the 2008 World Series was the second best day of his life (according to his wife Sandra).