2 Ways to Radically Rethink Career Services for Alumni

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Career services for alumni

Institutions say they want to offer better career services for alumni, so why aren’t they?

This spring we conducted a nationwide assessment on the state of career services for alumni (a topic our Research Consortium members requested) and the results are in! One of the most concerning trends from that data was how many institutions feel they are not doing enough in regards to career services for alumni. Almost all of the assessment respondents (93.9%) reported that 25% or less of their resources for career services go to alumni. This means that almost every institution surveyed devotes few resources to meeting their alumni’s career development needs, yet well over half the respondents believe their institution needs to increase these resources substantially.

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Recent graduates are dissatisfied as well. According to the Gallup-Purdue Index Report 2016, only “17% of 2010-2016 graduates report that their career services office was very helpful.”  

So why does this matter to advancement professionals? A 2013 study by Jaison R. Abel and Richard Deitz of the New York Federal Reserve Research and Statistics Group found that only “a little more than a quarter [of college graduates] work in a job that is directly related to their college major.” If students spend all that time and money on a degree that doesn’t prove valuable (which is part of the promise and premise of higher education), their alma mater may become irrelevant to them.

How do we demonstrate the value of higher education?

We believe career services is one major way to do this, but the offerings will only engage alumni if they are relevant and robust. And institutions will need the data to prove both.

To help, we dug into our assessment findings and identified two possible causes of the current inadequate state of career services, and two specific solutions for how to address them.

Cause 1: “An Uphill Battle:” Disparities Between Departments and Institutional Leadership

Despite such a high majority of assessment respondents reporting that they think more institutional resources should be dedicated to career services alumni, many respondents seem to perceive that their institutional leadership has less interest in these initiatives. In response to the question, “Is providing career services and professional development opportunities to alumni a priority at your institution?”, a majority of respondents (45.5%) selected 2 on this scale (1 = “Not currently a priority”; 4 = “This is one of our top priorities/extremely important”).

In other words, for nearly half the respondents, alumni career services are caught in limbo. It’s not that providing career-focused alumni services isn’t on the list of priorities for these institutions, it’s just that these services are so low on the list that they’re unlikely to improve any time soon, if at all. As one survey respondent explained in a post-assessment phone interview:

“We’ve been challenged in the field for a long time to do more with less, and unless we get institutional leadership to understand [the value of career services] then it is an uphill battle.”

So how can departments, like career services and alumni affairs, and institutional leadership work to get on the same page?

Possible Solution 1: Make the Case for Career Services for Alumni as Proof of ROI

It is unlikely that any institution’s leadership wants their school to fall short when it comes to the career services they offer for alumni. As we discussed in last month’s post, these days, colleges and universities are under significant pressure and face challenges from multiple directions. Decision makers and leaders must strategically determine where and how to allocate increasingly strained resources among a growing number of competing areas of need.

One possible step toward better understanding and collaboration is to clearly and succinctly make the case for career services for alumni as a value proposition for multiple stakeholders, including parents, students, alumni, and other supporters. Career services can be robust and they can be marketed as such. In addition, current students who utilize those robust services may be better positioned to make major gifts to the institution in the future because they are better prepared for their career.

But how do practitioners make the case for career services for alumni as proof of ROI?  Well, we believe it starts with (good) data, which brings us to…

Cause 2: A Lack of Demonstrated Correlation

In our assessment, respondents were asked, “If your institution has surveyed alumni who have used career services, can you correlate whether their use of the services has led to greater engagement and giving?”  Of those who responded to this question, 0% reported an ability to correlate whether alumni’s use of their services has led to greater engagement and giving. (It is important to note that this finding does not necessarily imply that alumni’s use of career services does not correlate to short or long-term giving, just that these institutions are not yet tracking possible correlations.)

This may also be true of career outcome data. As Allie Grasgreen explains in her Inside Higher Ed article, “Many colleges, for whatever reason, just aren’t good at tracking and reporting graduates’ career outcomes. That lack of information leads people to decide that colleges – particularly liberal arts ones – aren’t making good on their promise to get graduates gainfully employed, even though that may not be true.” Collecting and sharing this data can promote transparency, which may lead to deeper trust between an institution and its students and alumni.

As Daniel Greenstein argues in his article, “Judge Colleges and Universities by Their Outcomes,” the issues affecting higher education “are universal and our solutions should be as well. Four-year institutions, community colleges and for-profit institutions all need to be held to high standards for delivering on their promises and for collecting and sharing data.”

So how can institutions address this possible cause?

Possible Solution 2: View Career Services as a Path to Alumni Engagement

What if institutions saw career services as a path to alumni engagement and treated it as such? Then measuring and reporting the impact of the use of career services on alumni engagement and giving across time would be an obvious priority and step to take. Good data (integrated with information from other departments on campus) can also be a way to connect with students and alumni, and better connect them with employers.

Good data on current alumni is even important to help identify those alumni who may be able to help mentor current students in their career development journey. Did you know ALUMinate can help with this step? Through our technology partner, Uprising™, we offer solutions to unify your many datasets, combine advancement records, CRM, student records, online community, event management and social media to deliver holistic donor and prospect profiles through a user-friendly front end rendered on any device. In addition, ALUMinate can assist you in a variety of other areas, such as designing and conducting a relevant event strategy (including professional development and networking opportunities) for your regional alumni in all life stages, with your institution’s culture and goals at the center. Contact us today for a free consultation.

 After studying the data, we believe career services may be a way for many institutions to jumpstart alumni engagement, but only if those career services practitioners can make the case for themselves and if the institution takes note.

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