How—and why—liberal arts colleges are doubling down on career services

Liberal arts colleges are strengthening their career services efforts in response to post-recession worries among students and families about the job market, Michael Anft reports in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Lynn Pasquerella, president of the Association of American Colleges & Universities, calls this a "shift in thinking" among liberal arts colleges, who she says have historically focused on the intrinsic value of liberal arts rather than its vocational value.

"Smaller, high-caliber schools can respond to outcomes pressure by making large-scale investments in career services—whether that be in the actual physical space, or in hiring new staff, or in developing programs to take students to Silicon Valley, and so on," notes Natalia Alvarez Diaz, a student career outcomes researcher at EAB.

"But bigger, less selective schools with tighter budgets may not be able to make such investments," she adds. "For these schools, a combination of the right technology in the hands of the right student support allies can be the answer to offering personalized career services to a large population."

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Examples of this trend are taking shape across the country. Minnesota-based Carleton College included career development among six key priorities identified during an 18-month strategic planning stage, Anft reports. The decision was partially driven by a broader effort to recruit more students.

To improve career development, Carleton leaders made several changes. They hired more career counselors and assigned each student a liberal arts advisor who helps with career development. The alumni board began working with students early in their college careers to identify their interests and align them to potential careers. Finally, the career center engaged faculty members in the initiative through a standing committee that includes faculty representatives and a career center staff liaison assigned to each academic department.

But advice only goes so far. Carleton also encourages students to get first-hand experience through internships, externships, skill development trips, and a career "kick-starter" course. To expand their experiential learning opportunities, career center staff work with alumni and parents.

Carleton has received praise from student and parents for the new programs, but quantitative results are difficult to measure, says Kimberly Betz, director of Carleton's career center. In part, she says, that's because there's no single definition of success: "What metrics do you use to size up a quality life? That's the $50-million question." But she does have a few stats to share:

  • Roughly 80% of Carleton students go on to earn graduate degrees;
  • 97% of the Carleton class of 2017 used the career center's programs; and
  • More than 1,500 graduates have joined the network on the career center's website.

In Iowa, Grinnell College has also taken steps to improve career development, including hiring more career advisors and adding more experiential learning opportunities. The college also has an endowed career development deanship—which current Dean Mark Peltz believes is the only one of its kind in the United States. College officials say their decision was prompted by

Campus leaders track their success with a "career relevance index," a survey that measures how many students have achieved their career or graduate school goals within eight months of graduation. From 2012 to 2016, the share of students who respond positively increased from 79% to 94% (Anft, Chronicle of Higher Education, 10/22).

How Susquehanna University added career prep to their English program

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