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Critical Issues Paper-Return on Investment

  1. 1. Running head: RETURN ON INVESTMENT 1   Return on Investment: The Impact of College Affordability on Career Services Offices EDLD 707-01: Introduction to Higher Education - Critical Issues Paper Laura Stittsworth University of St. Thomas 11/30/2014
  2. 2. RETURN ON INVESTMENT 2 Introduction The affordability of higher education impacts the work of career development services on college campuses. The ever-increasing cost of college causes many families to question the value of the college degree. As the average student loan debt continues to rise, many are contemplating their return on investment and the likelihood of students finding meaningful work after college. These questions have led to increased pressures on colleges to prove their value in order to maintain enrollment and stay in business. This pressure has, in turn, changed the scope of how college career development offices have had to approach their work in assisting students. In order to address this complex issue, historical considerations of the functional area of career services and college affordability must be examined. In addition, it is also essential to consider the role assessment plays in the governance process, ensuring quality of services, and ultimately, justifying value of a college degree. Finally, best- practices and recommendations for adapting to the changing world of college career services will be discussed. History Purpose of Career Services on College Campuses According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) Principles of Professional Practice, the primary goal of college career centers includes “helping students choose and attain personally rewarding careers, and helping employers develop effective college relations programs which contribute to effective candidate selections for their organizations” (“Principles for Professional Practice,” NACE, 2012).
  3. 3. RETURN ON INVESTMENT 3 For practitioners, this includes coaching students through the career development process, which begins with helping students understand themselves (i.e. their skills, strengths, interest areas, values, needs, and personality types), helping them identify potential majors and/or career areas that fit who they are, assisting with the decision- making process, gaining experience in a field or industry, preparing for the job search process (i.e. resume, cover letter, interview prep, networking, etc.), and even career management (Sharf, 2006 & “Professional Competencies for College and University Career Services Practitioners,” NACE, 2013). In addition to career counseling, most college career centers are responsible for building connections with outside constituencies, managing information systems, marketing and promotions, programming administration, assessment practices, teaching, and overall management and administration, all of which contribute to the mission of helping students navigate the career development process and find meaningful work after college (“Professional Competencies for College and University Career Services Practitioners,” NACE, 2013). To be clear however, these responsibilities do not include directly “placing” students in positions after college; career centers are meant to prepare students to secure positions, not do it for them. Despite this distinction, current economic trends have influenced the landscape of higher education and ultimately, the role career services practitioners play in the job search process. Reality of Finding Work After College Unfortunately, finding a job after college has become increasingly difficult for many graduates. Prior to the recession of 2008, earning a bachelor’s degree was typically
  4. 4. RETURN ON INVESTMENT 4 enough to secure meaningful work after college. Today is a different story. According to the 2014 NACE, Spotlight on Careers Report: Recent unemployment figures released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics indicate a stagnating, if not regressing, college labor market. The unemployment rate for bachelor’s degree holders aged 20 to 24 (an indicator for recent college graduates) stood at 8.7 percent for January 2014. This was 0.7 percent higher than the unemployment rate for the same group in January 2013. It marked the 10th time in the past 11 months that the unemployment rate for young college graduates has been greater than the monthly unemployment rate in the previous year. Prior to this trend beginning last spring, the year-to-year change in the monthly unemployment rate for young college graduates had declined in 16 out of the previous 18 months (“Unemployment Data Reveals Flat College Labor Market”, NACE, 2014). In another report, Staklis and Skomsvold (2014) found that “the unemployment rate of 2007-08 bachelor degree recipients (9 percent) was higher than for those who attained their degrees in 1992-93 and 1999-2000 (4 percent and 5 percent, respectively)” (p. 3). In addition “[t]he different labor market conditions of the years examined in this study meant that the three cohorts faced different employment prospects as they sought and began their first jobs as college graduates” (Staklis & Skomsvold, 2014, p. 2). Clearly, finding work after college is challenging for graduates in today’s market.
  5. 5. RETURN ON INVESTMENT 5 Another side effect of the economic downturn and increasingly competitive job market includes the rising cost of college and ultimately, soaring student loan debt averages. College Affordability College affordability has been a widely discussed topic within higher education. Although the published prices of college have continued to increase past the rate of inflation, one also must consider financial aid contributions, student loan debt, and the average income level of college graduates: With the price of college rising faster than the prices of most other goods and services, despite the high financial payoff to college, people perceive themselves as giving up increasing amounts of other things to pay for college. Even more important is the reality that real incomes have not increased for more than a decade, except at the top of the income scale. Much of the growth in the earnings gap between college graduates and high school graduates has been the result of declining wages at the lower end of the distribution, as opposed to increases for those with a college education (CollegeBoard, 2014, p. 7). Therefore, even though the net cost of college has not risen dramatically, higher student loan debt and stagnant wages have increased the financial burden on college graduates. This is illustrated through Woo’s (2013) key findings on student borrowing and loan repayment: The percentage of recent college graduates who borrowed for their undergraduate education was higher in each successive cohort (49, 64, and 66 percent, respectively, among graduates in 1992-93, 1999-2000,
  6. 6. RETURN ON INVESTMENT 6 and 2007-08), though the difference between the first two cohorts was greater than the difference between the middle and latest cohort. Likewise, the average cumulative debt (in constant 2009 dollars) from all sources increased in each successive cohort, from $15,000 to $22,400 to $24,700 (p. 4). Whether lower college affordability is a perception or a reality, this phenomenon is affecting the way families view higher education. College Admissions and Enrollment Patterns Regardless of the actual cost of college, the rising “sticker price” of college combined with increasing average student loan debt is causing many families to question the return on investment of a college education (Breneman, 1996; Harvey, 2014; Peterkin, 2012; and Strauss & Howe, 2005). Students and their families have begun to “shop for colleges” as consumers, taking cost and financial aid packages into consideration (Harvey, 2014; and Saunders, 2014). From a Career Services standpoint, this phenomenon has caused added pressure for career centers to achieve and report higher placement rates, so families can feel justified in their students’ decisions to enroll in college. In their report on university enrollments and labor-market realities, Vedder, Denhard, and Robe (2013) identified that the labor-market is saturated with over- educated and under-employed graduates, and projected that “rising college costs and perceived declines in economic benefits may well lead to declining enrollments” (p. 1). If this projection is true, the impact of college affordability could cause a damaging spiral effect. Figure 1 below illustrates the potential spiral effect of lower college affordability
  7. 7. RETURN ON INVESTMENT 7 on the college admissions and financial aid process, college enrollment, operating budget, institutional support for college career services, and student outcomes: Accountability and Assessment These trends have ultimately resulted in added pressure for institutions of higher education (i.e. Career Services Offices) to focus on accountability by regularly reporting data on post-college employment. Many for-profit institutions and certificate programs have been required to comply with Gainful Employment Regulations, which tie access to financial aid to a school’s success in preparing students for employment in a recognized Figure 1: Potential Spiral Effect of Low College Affordability Rising tuition and student loan debt àlower enrollment numbers à limited budget and institutional support for college career centers à added challenge in providing quality career services for students à lower student outcomes post-graduation, which would be reflected in assessment numbers à effects how families view the school during the admissions process.  
  8. 8. RETURN ON INVESTMENT 8 occupation post-graduation (“Career Colleges Get New (and Improved) Gainful Employment Regulations. (Cover story),” Educational Marketer, 2011). While intent of Gainful Employment was meant to hold institutions accountable, the success of such regulations is still being evaluated. For non-profit institutions, this has meant more thorough assessment metrics. Assessment in Career Services Within the functional area of Career Services, assessment plays a role in institutional accountability (Wright, 2014); measuring student learning outcomes; justifying the need for institutional support for staffing and programming needs; and helping with college admissions and enrollment. As recommended by NACE, one tool that is commonly used among college career services offices is the First Destination Survey: NACE recognizes the important public discourse regarding the escalating cost of higher education and the perceived returns on the significant investment in time, effort, and resources expended by college students and their families. This is reflected in part, for example, by the White House’s College Scorecard initiative. The association further acknowledges the growing importance of institutional outcome assessment efforts as they relate to improving higher education organizational performance and achieving regional and academic program accreditation standards. In support of these vital issues, NACE expects that all higher education institutions will assess the career and employment outcomes for their graduates through a first-destination/post-graduation survey. These
  9. 9. RETURN ON INVESTMENT 9 surveys are designed to understand more about the employment and continuing education goals and activities of college graduates, providing important information to help inform prospective students and their families as well as the general public about post-graduation outcomes. (“Position Statement: First-Destination Surveys,” NACE, 2012). To aid in this assessment practice, NACE published a set of standards for practitioners to follow when implementing First-Destination Surveys, which can be found on their general webpage (“First-destination survey standards and protocols,” NACE, 2014). Kent State University also published an assessment manual including several tools that are used in their career center, including an annual graduate survey; employer survey; student user survey; weekly appointment tracking monitor; student interview evaluation; recruiter evaluation; career course questionnaire and evaluation; workshop evaluations; and counseling intake and evaluation forms (Baumgartner, 1994). Assessment provides data on how career centers can better improve student services and serves as a for guide decision-making and resource allocation on college campuses. Decision-Making on College Campuses: Mission & Governance In addition to assessment outcomes, an institution’s mission and strategic plan are integral to its governance and decision-making processes. The mission guides the goals that institutions set for students by the time they graduate. The strategic plan takes the mission of the institution into consideration and then aligns division recourses with institutional priorities (Ellis, 2010). When institutional priorities align with career
  10. 10. RETURN ON INVESTMENT 10 outcomes, naturally, career centers tend to receive more institutional support. This support can be in terms of hiring additional staff or providing additional programming funds. However, as mentioned earlier, many schools also rely on enrollment numbers to support institutional funding. If colleges have limited funds to support career centers, regardless of the strategic plan, this could highly affect the quality of career development services being provided to students. Best Practices & Recommendations In order to operate effectively under tight budgets, career services practitioners should follow the following best practices and recommendations: Routine and purposeful assessment, thinking innovatively to increase efficiency, collaborating with cross-campus partners, and building solid connections with community employers and alumni. Routine and Purposeful Assessment It is clear that professionals in higher education need to take assessment seriously, for more than just accreditation and funding purposes. With the ever-increasing costs of tuition, we owe it to our students to deliver quality education that provides meaningful learning experiences inside and outside of the classroom. We also owe it to society as a whole. Our world is diversifying, and it is our job as educators to prepare students, and future professionals, for the future ahead – the only way we can know this is happening, is through ongoing assessment of our academic and co-curricular efforts. According to the NACE (2014) Guidelines for Internal and External Review of Career Services, practitioners should follow ground rules when implementing assessment practices which include:
  11. 11. RETURN ON INVESTMENT 11 • Implementing a process that is clearly focused on quality enhancement rather than pass/fail; • Demonstrating commitment to continuous improvement of processes, programs, and services; • Involving as many of the career services staff as possible in the self- assessment process; • Building mutual trust among team members so that conflicts and differences of opinion can best be resolved in the best interest of the institution; • Ensuring that ratings given for each criterion are fully substantiated by evidence and documentation; • Identifying unit strengths and weaknesses, and developing a meaningful plan for improvement that can be communicated effectively to multiple constituencies (p. 5). Innovation and Efficiency Professionals need to find innovative and efficient ways to work on a limited budget with limited staff. Often times, limited staff directly effects appointment wait times for students, as schedules fill up quickly. Training student workers, employing graduate assistants, or hiring part-time coaches can build capacity. Additionally, adding drop-in hours and mini-workshops can help staff meet with more students in an efficient way. Another way to save on operating costs includes going paperless. Many offices utilize solely online-based resources, social-media and web-based marketing strategies,
  12. 12. RETURN ON INVESTMENT 12 and create reusable resources. By thinking creatively, career services offices can maximize effectiveness while minimizing costs. Campus Partners Building solid relationships with campus and community partners can help any student services office get things done more efficiently: Colleges and universities have an important mission, and this mission is best accomplished when campus professionals share a vision and coordinate their efforts to help realize it. Campus leaders have the responsibility to create and support an infrastructure that helps members in their institutions take pride in their accomplishments and face their challenges (Allen, 2004, p. 164). Cross-campus partnerships provide an avenue for all higher education professionals to collaborate and ensure student learning and success on campus. Community and Alumni Connections Finally, in addition to providing high quality services for students, career services professionals must maintain solid relationships with community employers and alumni who can connect students to internship and job opportunities. It is widely known in the field that the majority of people find jobs through networking opportunities, so the more exposure students have to potential employers, the better their odds are for finding meaningful work after college. This can be a challenging task for offices with limited resources and staff, so it is essential to create sustainable ways of maintaining these relationships.
  13. 13. RETURN ON INVESTMENT 13 Future Considerations With the current state of higher education, it will be important for all career services practitioners to pay attention to how the affordability of college compares to the job market, and ultimately how that relationship impacts students in finding meaningful work after graduation. Continuous, intentional, and thorough assessment practices will help career services offices justify their work, advocate for institutional support, and identify areas for improvement. Finally, practitioners must think creatively, innovate, and work efficiently in order to maintain the standards of the profession and ensure positive student outcomes. While it is not the responsibility of career services professionals to directly “place” students in jobs, we can work together to create opportunities for students to build connections with potential employers and successfully navigate the career development process on their own.
  14. 14. RETURN ON INVESTMENT 14 References Allen, M. J. (2004). Assessing academic programs in higher education. Bolton, MA: Anker Publishing Company, Inc. Baumgartner, D. (1994). The Career Services Center Assessment Manual. Retrieved from Breneman, D. W. (1996). Affordability and the private institution. Educational Record, 77, 14. Career Colleges Get New (and Improved) Gainful Employment Regulations. (Cover story). (2011). Educational Marketer, 42(12), 1–4. Retrieved from ect=true&db=keh&AN=61355970&site=ehost-live CollegeBoard. (2014) Trends in higher education series: Trends in college pricing 2014. Retrieved from https://secure- report-final.pdf Ellis, S. E. (Ed.), (2010). Strategic planning in student affairs. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. Harvey, T. (2014, March 6). Cost and Financial Aid Increasingly Influence Students’ Choice of College. The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from National Association of Colleges and Employers. (2014). First-destination survey standards and protocols. Retrieved from
  15. 15. RETURN ON INVESTMENT 15 standards.aspx?land-surv-lp-3-kc-1destd-11072014 National Association of Colleges and Employers. (2014). Guidelines for internal and external review of career services. Retrieved from review-of-career-services.index.aspx National Association of Colleges and Employers. (2012). Principles for professional practice. Retrieved from professional-practice.aspx National Association of Colleges and Employers. (2013). Professional competencies for college and university career services practitioners. Retrieved from National Association of Colleges and Employers (2012). Position Statement: First- Destination Surveys. (n.d.). Retrieved from surveys.aspx National Association of Colleges and Employers. (2014). Unemployment data reveals flat college labor market. Retrieved from Saunders, D. B. (2014). Exploring a Customer Orientation: Free-Market Logic and College Students. The Review of Higher Education, 37(2), 197–219. doi:10.1353/rhe.2014.0013
  16. 16. RETURN ON INVESTMENT 16 Staklis, S., & Skomsvold, P. (2014). New College Graduates at Work: Employment among 1992-93, 1999-2000, and 2007-08 Bachelor's Degree Recipients 1 Year after Graduation. Stats in Brief. NCES 2014-003. National Center for Education Statistics. Retrieved from Strauss, W., & Howe, N. (2005, October 21). The High Cost of College: an Increasingly Hard Sell. The Chronicle of Higher Education, B24. Retrieved from an/20600/ Vedder, R., Denhart, C., & Robe, J. (2013). Why Are Recent College Graduates Underemployed? University Enrollments and Labor-Market Realities. Center for College Affordability and Productivity. Retrieved from Wright, R. E. (2014). Student focused marketing: impact of marketing higher education based on student data and input. College Student Journal, 48(1), 88+. Retrieved from E%7CA372252069&v=2.1&u=clic_stthomas&it=r&p=ITOF&sw=w&asid=c15a 6e6f11ddd12073048147a28a7e41