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Career Services: A Nexus in Higher Education's Pursuit of ROI, Equity, and Financial Stability

By Jeremy Podany, Founder and CEO of The Career Leadership Collective

I spend much of my time with and regularly provide strategic direction for the leader of the campus career center. I spend another good portion of my time advising Senior Administrators - those who either supervise the career center leader or are keen to transform career outcomes and student success. This blog post is for Senior Leaders, specifically Presidents, Provosts, Deans, VPSAs, AVPs, Enrollment Leaders, and all those with a strategic interest in the career services mission and office. Check out our Transforming Career Success page for more details about how we support your work.

Rarely is there a functional area on campus that interacts with every stakeholder: students, faculty, employers, alumni, donors, deans, prospective students, parents, and community members. Career Centers sit at the intersection, or nexus, of multiple institutional priorities, and moreover, there are great benefits of having a clarified strategy for a career ecosystem.

While there are many strategic opportunities to address, I offer three calls to action for Senior Leaders as they build capacity, consider effective structures, and deliberately support the students’ career development and success—this great nexus: The Career Center.

Call to Action 1: Activate ROI through your campus career ecosystem.

What we know:

  • Research from the recently released 2023 National Alumni Career Mobility Survey report shows a clear association between career planning during the degree and alumni belief that the degree was worth the cost.

  • The same report also reveals the top motivations for obtaining a college education were: 1. Career success, 2. Intellectual development, and 3. Required for my career aspirations.

What you can do:

  • Build a campus career ecosystem where career readiness is integrated into the student life cycle - from the classroom to the co-curricular experience - not just offered at an optional career office.

  • Gather broader alumni career outcome data to better understand how your unique alumni affinity relates to how your institution prepared them for their future.

Key questions to consider:

  • How can you further define a vision for career readiness as part of the entire student lifecycle?

  • How can you focus more on meaningful career outcomes than on inputs such as event attendance or staff likeability? What data do you need to tell your institution's story of success to key audiences?

  • How can your institution integrate career planning and pathway mapping, which positively impacts student retention, persistence, and graduation?

Call to Action 2: Inspire equity by ensuring access to career planning.

What we know:

  • Students of color and adult learners are less likely to experience High Impact Career Practices, negatively impacting their career success after graduation.

  • Career teams have the expertise to assist every student but rarely have the structures or support from the top for that content to be embedded into the student lifecycle through academic affairs and student affairs.

What you can do:

  • Consider how High Impact Career Practices and relevant career development can be embedded into the education experience to impact equity. The Integrating Career Advising for Equitable Student Success report provides landmark research and explores the question: “Can increasing career advising integration help to close equity gaps?”

  • Resource your career office so that it can scale to engage every single student and every diverse student group with refreshed structures, evergreen content, embedded learning modules, and diversity and identity-oriented career resources.

Key questions to consider

  • What percent of students are actually receiving career readiness assistance? Is this number considered good or bad? Why?

  • Which career practices meaningfully impact key student populations, such as first-generation students or adult learners?

  • How can you further consider career readiness at scale in order to increase equity?

Call to Action 3: Foster additional institutional financial stability through career services.

What we know:

  • Career Centers collect essential data and student stories for internal stakeholders to tell prospective students and families a compelling and differentiated story.

  • Career Centers regularly steward relationships with hundreds of potential alumni and corporate donors.

What you can do:

  • Consider the gap between companies that give to your institution and companies that hire your students. I would wager that you have companies that give to your institution but do not hire, and others who hire, but do not give. While you don’t need to side-track career team members with fundraising, the career center is naturally stewarding relationships with hundreds of corporate and alumni donors. Building intentional connections between your career, advancement, and alumni teams can increase your return on investment with external constituents. Thoughtful strategy and operational adjustments in this arena can go a long way toward increasing corporate donations.

  • Curate a differentiated story in the admissions process for prospective parents and students. Is your current storyline: “We have a career center” or “The career center helps with resumes at career fairs"? Those inputs are not inspiring to prospective students and parents, and they offer no differentiation from the majority of colleges and universities. What relevant outcomes can you deliver? What are the big data stories and the individual success stories that differentiate your institution?

Key questions to consider

  • How can you become more strategic in understanding and connecting corporate fundraising and hiring?

  • How can you better understand why prospective students select your particular institution as it relates to their career goals?

  • How can you gather and visualize career outcome data for use in multiple internal and external arenas?

There is an art to clarifying the career readiness vision of your campus, reframing priorities, leveraging the best career outcomes data, and effectively sharing your unique career success stories with key stakeholders. Given the Career Center’s core role in bridging the space between what happens in the classroom and the world of work as a nexus of all campus stakeholders, these variables are at your fingertips and worth the pursuit! Leveraging your career center as a hub for internal and external partnerships can result in greater returns not only for your institution but throughout the lifetime of your graduates.

Need assistance with strategically growing your career readiness efforts? Let's connect to discuss our consulting and training services.

Jeremy Podany

Founder and CEO of The Career Leadership Collective

Jeremy Podany is the Founder and CEO of The Career Leadership Collective, a consultancy that has done business with over 1,000 colleges and universities since 2017 on the systemic career development needs of higher education. The Collective is the inventor of the National Alumni Career Mobility (NACM) survey and the EMBARK first destination data service, which were both acquired by Lightcast in 2023.

Jeremy enjoyed nearly 20 years working in higher education, primarily in career services. His inventions and consulting solutions have systemically helped thousands of university leaders and hundreds of thousands of college students with career education and career mobility.


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