CAREER SERVICES FOR DISTANCE STUDENTS:
A LOW-BUDGET APPROACH TO A HIGH-TECH CHALLENGE
Ron, a student leaving the military for civilian employment, called the Career Center for assistance. He took career assessments, had several counseling sessions and took a workshop. We translated his resume from military-lingo into English, practiced interviewing techniques and researched potential employers, resulting in Ron's successful transition to civilian employment.
What was unusual about this scenario? Ron was living in Georgia while the career center serving him was in Denver. All services were provided over email, web pages and telephone. Ron and his counselor never met in person.
Trends in Distance Education
There is a growing trend in distance education. Distance enrollment nationwide has tripled in the past five years to an estimated two million students (IDC, Jan. 1999). Regis University distance student enrollment increased from 10% to 32% of the total student population in the past two years.
Brief History of Distance Learning/ Education
Distance learning is education or training brought to people who are geographically distant or physically unable to be in a classroom. Often distance education delivery uses technology such as the Internet, email, or electronic bulletin boards. These developments framed Regis University's entrance into the distance education arena.
Distance learning is not new. The first correspondence course may have been available as early as 1720 (Holmberg, 1995). Technology now drives distance education. In the last 50 years, sociological, economic and technological forces contributed to growth in distance education. Increases in women entering the workforce, single-parent families, corporate education needs and lower priced computers paved the way for dramatic changes in learning delivery systems. More people wanting faster access to education intersected with the development of reasonably-priced software to spur distance education programs.
With several Master's and Bachelor's degrees and numerous professional certificates fully offered online, busy students who live far from Regis can complete a degree without ever setting foot in Denver. Students enroll from all over the US and from several countries. Job schedules and family responsibilities also influence the choice to take classes online, making the delivery of career services over the telephone and via email more attractive for students who live within driving distance of a campus as well.
Ethical Challenges for the Counselor
Career services for distance clients have generated a need for web counseling standards as addressed by the American Counseling Association (http://www.counseling.org/resources/internet) and the National Board of Certified Counselors (http://www.nbcc.org). Privacy and confidentiality of records are paramount to the counseling relationship. ACA and NBCC both provide guidelines for protecting privacy and confidentiality during email interactions with clients. These guidelines stress informing clients of encryption methods used by the counselor, how session data is kept and for how long. A warning to clients of the hazards of email encryption methods also needs to be provided. This information can be stated in the "Your Rights as a Client" materials the counselor provides. These guidelines also recommend that the online counselor provide a statement about what issues are appropriate for online counseling.
Specifically for career counseling, the Western Interstate Commission on Higher Education also provides principles of good practice for online career counseling at its website, http://www.wiche.edu/telecom/resources.
Challenges for Counselors and Students
Providing career development services for distance students presents a variety of challenges to the counseling process. Students in different parts of the US and overseas may vary in cultural background, language and communication style. This can mean that job search etiquette and techniques for a distance student might be very different from the style used locally by the counselor. Since visual cues are missing, parts of the communication process are challenged. This can particularly affect rapport building and make it more difficult to assess the emotional state of the student engaged in making a career decision or looking for a job.
Some students may be uncomfortable about disclosing concerns about disability, ethnicity or other barriers to employment and career decision-making. Privacy may become an issue for telephone and email communication, depending on whether the student is interacting with the counselor from work or home and the encryption level of the student's email service. Marketing career services to this population is especially challenging, since they do not physically come to campus to see posters, but rely on email and postal communication, which is subject to university regulation and budget constraints.
Services Offered at a Distance
In spite of challenges in providing career services to distance students, more than half of Regis University career development sessions in 2002 were done via email or a toll-free telephone number that was provided so callers would not incur any charges to participate. The following career services have been effectively delivered to distance students:
Regis University Career Services continues to seek new ways to serve distance students and welcomes correspondence from career development professionals on this topic.
Holmberg, B., (1995). Theory and Practice of Distance Education. 2nd edition, Routeledge: New York
IDC (1999). US College Students in Distance Learning Programs, International Data Communications, Inc. New York.
Cyndy Redifer, MA, is the Assistant Director and a Career Counselor for Regis University. Email: email@example.com
April Crandell Peterson, MA LPC, is the Senior Career Counselor at Regis University. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org