5 Reasons Colleges Should Invest More in Career Services

Colleges and universities are increasingly being evaluated on the career outcomes of their graduates. However, most institutions invest relatively little in career services. The average annual operating budget for a career services department is only $89,819 and, on average colleges have one career services professional for every 1,889 students, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers.

Why are savvy institutional leaders ramping up these investments? Here are five reasons to consider:

1. It’s why students go to college

The long-term benefits of a holistic liberal education are well documented. That said, college students rate better employment opportunities as their primary motivation for going to college, according to a recent survey by the New America Foundation. That is one reason that forward-thinking institutions are increasingly putting career preparation front and center in their value proposition to prospective students

2. It gets students to persist and graduate

With average six-year graduation rates hovering around 55 percent, colleges and universities are looking for ways to improve student persistence and completion. Research shows that getting students to articulate their motivations for obtaining a credential, develop a plan for achieving that goal and to take ownership for executing their plan are all critical components for success. In order to get students focused on their long-term goals early, many institutions are building career planning discussions into the experience for their prospective and newly enrolled students. Some are even going as far as building mandatory, for-credit career planning courses into their first-year curriculum.

3. It improves employer relations

Only 11 percent of business leaders strongly agree that higher education institutions are graduating students with the skills and competencies their business need, according to a recent Gallup/Lumina study. When asked what skills students are lacking, those most frequently cited include:

  • Communication
  • Organization/Prioritization
  • Teamwork
  • Data analysis
  • Decision making
  • Problem solving

While most institutions seek to embed the development of these skills throughout the student experience, some are also leveraging their career services operations to supplement those efforts and ensure that students graduate with the skills employers look for most.

4. It improves alumni relations

The simple fact is that successful alumni are far more likely to be happy alumni. Yet, the vast majority of recent graduates feel that their alma matters did a poor job of getting them ready for career success. The recent McGraw Hill Education 2015 Workforce Readiness study found:

  • Only 20 percent of recent graduates feel very prepared for the workforce
  • 51 percent had not learned how to write a resume
  • 56 percent did not learn how to conduct themselves in an interview
  • 58 percent did not learn how to network or search for a job
  • Only 33 percent feel that current career services provided by their school are effective

As the costs of going to college increases, providing great career services is becoming increasingly central to strong alumni relations.

5. It reduces loan defaults

The class of 2015 is the most indebted class ever, with 71 percent graduating with outstanding student loans averaging a little more than $35,000. At the same time, nearly one in three Americans who now have to pay down their student debt — or a staggering 31.5 percent — are at least a month behind on their payments. The main culprit: college grads are finding themselves unemployed or underemployed and cannot pay their loans.

Unemployment rates for recent graduates are 2 to 3 times higher than for college degree holders overall, as found by a recent study by the Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University. Moreover, 49 percent of recent college grads find themselves underemployed, according to an Accenture study.

Investing in career services is one way colleges and universities can help keep the loan bubble from bursting.

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