Colleges and universities across the country are facing many challenges and enrollment is usually high on the list. Fewer students are able to pay for the ever-rising costs of higher education, while the number of high school graduates has been gradually declining and will continue in this trajectory until 2014/2015 (Higher Education Research Institute, 2010). Couple this with more aggressive and sophisticated marketing from peer institutions and it is the perfect combination for an increasingly competitive market.
It is time for career services professionals to develop strategies and mobilize in response to these challenges. Given the scarcity of resources and the fact that the operating budgets of many institutions are dependent on tuition, we cannot afford to delay. The following is a list of opportunities for collaboration with the Enrollment or Admissions function on your campus.
Outcome Data - When prospective students were asked to rate the factors that were influential in their selection of a college, 56.5 percent of respondents identified graduates’ employment status as very important. Thirty-six percent also selected alumni’s acceptance into top graduate programs (Higher Education Research Institute, 2010). At a minimum, our partnership with Enrollment should include following-up with graduates to identify if their degree helped them achieve their professional goals and secure satisfactory employment. Without this transparency, students may be unable to determine their interest in an institution. Facebook, LinkedIn and electronic survey systems have made this data collection even easier.
Alumni & Student Profiles - In addition to quantitative data, we need to provide a face and a story. During the data collection, we can identify graduates who are working at noteworthy organizations or who were admitted into prestigious graduate/professional school programs.
Geographical Advantage – Admissions not only markets the institution, but also the surrounding community. We can help them gain a competitive advantage over peer institutions by sharing information on professional job and internship opportunities. Vibrant communities may also provide more networking activities, as well as opportunities for students to confirm their major through job shadowing or externships. All of this information will capture the interest of prospective students and their families.
Employer Feedback – Testimonials from reputable organizations that have sponsored interns or hired students can confirm the quality of our degree programs. We also have access to extensive employer surveys from our professional associations and media sources that confirm the needs of organizations and demonstrate the necessity of a college degree.
Undecided Students – Some students struggle to select a college because they are unsure of their major. Career Services can not only normalize and reframe this uncertainty, but can also outline the many resources that exist to help them discover their career goals.
Part-time Employment – In the current economic climate, affordability is also an influential factor in many students’ decision. Students who do not qualify for work study or who need to augment their financial aid package with part-time employment will need our help locating jobs, writing resumes and preparing for interviews.
Personal Attention – It is one thing for Admissions to state that the faculty and staff care deeply about their students; it is quite another for students to experience it. Our most valuable resource is often a simple one: ourselves. We are trained to build rapport quickly with others and respond to their needs. This personal attention communicates to students that they are more than a number – they are a priority.
Distinguishable Values – As the market becomes more competitive, we can help Admissions identify the attributes that make our university unique. For example, on my own campus, I have found that I am able to demonstrate the professional value of a liberal arts degree. Elaborate on some of the aspects of your institution which provide a career advantage.
Co-sponsored events – If we host an event such as an alumni or employer panel, we should consider extending an invitation to prospective students or planning it around campus visits. It not only demonstrates the quality programming that occurs on campus, but prospective families are often interested in these topics. We can also volunteer to present during campus visits and tours, accepted student days or registration events.
Professional Development – Finally, we can share information periodically with the Admissions team. Helping a student select a college is not that different from helping an individual choose a major or decide between job offers. Whether it is labor market trends, occupational requirements, salary surveys, or decision-making theory, we have expertise to share.
Not only will a partnership advance the mission of Admissions, it will also help us leverage the objectives of our own department. Admissions may be willing to split the cost of a publication or advocate for a different physical location for our office so it can be showcased during campus tours. They can also communicate early messages to our future students about career planning and the resources available to them. In the book Involving Colleges, George Kuh and his associates called this “anticipatory socialization”, and it certainly will make our work less reactive and more effective.
If you do not already have a strong alliance with Admissions, take action. Share this article with a colleague in Admissions and begin to engage in a meaningful discussion about future opportunities today.
Higher Education Research Institute (2010). The American Freshman: National Norms for Fall 2009. Los Angeles, CA: University of California at Los Angeles. Retrieved online on June 2, 2011 from http://chronicle.com/article/This-Years-Freshmen-at-4-Year/63672/.
Kuh, G., Schuh, J., Whitt, E., & Associates (1991). Involving Colleges: Successful Approaches to Fostering Student Learning and Development Outside the Classroom. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Billie Streufert is the director of Career Services at the University of Sioux Falls in South Dakota. She earned her Master’s Degree in Counseling and Student Personnel from Minnesota State University and has nearly ten years of experience in career and academic planning. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org