Why Are Some College Career Service Offices Lame?


I will be launching a six-week, online course called Cutting the Cost of College beginning Feb. 12. Please scroll to the bottom of this post to learn more and email me at Lynn@TheCollegeSolution.com if you want further notifications! Lynn O’Shaughnessy

Before spending an obscene amount of money on a bachelor’s degree, families want to know if their children’s job prospects are good.

As I’ve mentioned in past college blog posts, it’s difficult to get a good grasp of this because the employment statistics that schools share are usually meaningless.

Institutional job statistics usually rely on grads returning surveys and few do. And, as you can imagine, the ones that do participate in surveys are the ones who found employment.

You might assume that one logical place to look for a school’s commitment to job preparation is an institution’s career services office. But, here again, the reality can be discouraging.

Earlier this year, I talked withan executive at a Fortune 500 company who told me that his company doesn’t bother with university Career Services Offices to find employees. This company that hires many STEM  majors, works with professors at certain universities that provides recommendations. This executive was downright condescending when he spoke of career service offices.

I also had a conversation with a friend, who is an career expert, who worked for many years at a major flagship university and who is quite familiar with university career placement efforts. She observed that career services offices aren’t much help. For starters, she said the offices are typically understaffed. Schools count on the majority of students not to use their services.

Just as alarming, the people in these career offices, she noted, are often removed from what’s happening in the work world. If you want much more than help with a resume, you could be out of luck


Wake Forest U.

I am mentioning these conversations now because of a crowd-sourced report issued this year – A Roadmap for Transforming the College-to-Career Experience – that takes a critical look at college career services. The report, which was edited by Andy Chan and Tommy Derry, at Wake Forest University (which has an awesome career services program!), was the culmination of a conference hosted by Wake Forest that brought together 250 college administrators, professors, corporate executives and thought leaders.

The report summarized the problem with career services in general:

While transformational changes have occurred in the world of work, many college career offices look and
function the same way they did twenty years ago. When we think about how dramatically the world of work has changed, it is remarkable that the methods utilized to prepare students to enter it have remained static. Yet instead of investing, schools slashed career office budgets by an average of 16 percent this past year while prospective students and families pleaded for increased support to help find gainful employment.

Unless we can demonstrate to prospective students and their families that the four years spent at college will result in better employment prospects, there will continue to be those who disparage a college education as a waste of money.

What Needs To Be Done

The conference participants agreed, according to the report, that schools must reexamine their existing models and construct new methods to help students successfully enter the world of work. Many ideas were examined, but everyone agreed on one point: schools must reexamine their existing models and construct new methods to help students successfully enter the world of work.

To generate meaningful change, senior administration and faculty must make this a priority. Career office must reach out to influential groups around campus, particularly academic advancement, communications, information system and alumni relations offices.

Why Are Career Service Offices So Lame?

I think a one reason why colleges haven’t made career services a priority is because they have been able to get away with it. Since a way didn’t exist for families to measure how well schools did at helping their grads find jobs, they didn’t have to be accountable.  This, however, is thankfully changing.

In a modest first step, the federal government recently unveiled College Reality Check that serves as a mini report card for schools. The U.S. Department of Education eventually hopes to include employment data on the scorecards. Here is my post on this: Measuring a School’s ROI With College Reality Check

The real action has been on the state level as a growing number of states have set up systems that track and share what average salaries are of young college graduates at specific schools within their states. Even more helpful, you can see salaries for specific majors. The states where you can find this information are Texas, Colorado, Arkansas, Tennessee and Virginia. An easy way to access this information is through CollegeMeasures.org.

Promising Legislation to Make Schools Accountable

Finally, the heat is being applied in Congress to share job data on schools throughout the country. Why roll out salary data one state at a time when the federal government could provide it coast-to-coast?

A bipartisan bill, sponsored by Senators Mark Rubio (R-FL) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) introduced legislation this year that would link individual student records with wage data nationally. The ultimate goal of this legislation is to empower families with information they need to make smart college decisions.

Shamefully, this effort was stymied five years ago when opponents of transparency, including some private colleges and universities and conservative Republicans, convinced Congress to ban the federal government from creating a so-called “federal unit-record database” that would have allowed us to check the overall salaries of grads of any school, as well as the salaries of grads of particular majors.

The resistance to this consumer tool has thankfully been softening. I hope the bipartisan bill passes.

I don’t, by the way, believe that initial salaries tells us everything we need to know about a school and this tool should not be the only one used. I do think transparency is desperately needed because it is the only way to force schools to treat job preparation seriously.

There are too many students with $250,000 educations that are living back home with their parents.

Do You Want to Shrink the Cost of College?

Help is on the way!scissors

Michelle Kretzschmar of Do It Yourself College Rankings and I have been working hard on developing an online class for parents  that will explain how to make college more affordable. We have designed this six-week course to help make you an empowered consumer as you navigate your child’s college choices.

This class will also be extremely valuable for high school counselors and independent college consultants, who want to help their families find generous schools.

Our class starts Feb. 12 and we will be sharing more details soon. If you are interested in learning more about the class, please email me (Lynn@TheCollegeSolution.com) and I will put you on the notification list.

We hope to see you in February!

Let's Connect

Leave a Reply

  1. I am interested in the six-week, online course called Cutting the Cost of College beginning Feb. 12. I would like further notifications and detail about course schedule.

    Thanks and I look forward to hearing from you.
    Mary Patno

  2. I think that such a database would be enormously helpful as long as it does not include students who join volunteer organizations or get into grad school, but to be meaningful the stats should include: at graduation, % were employed with …. average salary ($…. -$… 25-75 range), % had been admitted to grad school and other programs, % were still looking for a job. This question would be compulsory for graduation and perhaps 6 months later (as a condition for release of transcripts?) Certainly, many seniors do not have a job lined up at graduation, but it’d provide an easy to measure element of comparison. At the very least, such a public measure would ensure colleges do the best job they can helping their students for the post-college world