When I was in high school, getting into a good, or even a great, college was not a big deal. Sure, it’s always been pretty hard to gain admission to the very best schools, but as a California student in the late ‘70’s, getting an acceptance letter from Cal, UCLA or USC was expected. College counseling was an insignificant part of my high school experience, as it was for most of my peers. We didn’t need the help.
Today, college admissions is a brutally competitive and highly charged multi-year campaign. The strategy around how to gain admission to the college of your choice begins for many well before high school. Students and their parents begin scheming about admissions scenarios at earlier and earlier ages. Whether it’s the thousands of kids who participate in club sports, join their school’s debate team, or take SAT prep courses, everyone is looking for an edge. Most reputable high schools have built up sophisticated college counseling functions because parents and students demand it.
We expect the same sort of evolution in career services at universities. According to statistics in NACE’s (National Association of Colleges and Employers) 2014 survey of its member universities, the average university has one college counselor for every 2,370 students and spends barely $34,000 beyond salaries on career services tools. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the average annual cost of a four-year university in 2012 was $23,006, 483% higher than when I graduated from high school in 1982. Based on the statistics above, of that tuition total, approximately $30, or barely 1/10%, is being spent on helping students connect their education to a career. Does that seem like a rational allocation of student’s education investment?
Schools argue that they are in the education business, not the career business. True, but if you listen to the Department of Education and the President, schools that fail to prove their programs lead to a job in the student’s area of study will face scrutiny of their federally funded student loans. The for-profit sector is already facing this issue based on recent gainful employment rules, and it would be surprising if a similar assessment of not-for-profit schools is not in the offing. As the price of a college education has become more and more expensive, the Obama Administration, parents and students are signaling to all of higher education that they really are in the career business, because education only makes economic sense if it can be paid for.
Just as college counseling expanded due to the increasing competition for college admissions, career counseling will expand based on the sky rocketing cost of going to school coupled with the challenging job market for new graduates. Career services offices are doing all they can with the limited resources they have. It will be up to college administrators to recognize that universities who strategically invest in capabilities to help their students succeed after they graduate will be ahead of their competition.
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