Stretching Career Service Dollars

During the recent recession, university budgets came under intense scrutiny. With state government support for higher education waning and endowments crushed by the financial system meltdown, tuition had to go up while spending on ancillary services went down. College administrators were faced with the unpleasant job of filling holes in their budgets while graduates entered one of the worst job markets in decades. Although the long road to economic recovery continues, the higher education system is still struggling to reconcile a perceived gap between the value of its product compared to its price. And while employment prospects are improving, college graduates are competing for jobs with more senior people who were displaced during the recession.

In this challenging environment, spending on career services as measured by staffing levels seems inadequate. According to NACE’s 2014 Career Services survey, the nationwide average number of students per career counselor is 2,370 to 1. How can a career counselor really help prepare a student who is one of several thousand for whom they are notionally responsible? But with limited resources, how can career services reach more students at a reasonable price?

In the current environment, it is unlikely that career centers will see substantially more budget dollars coming their way. Career services personnel will have to find innovative solutions. While technology is not a panacea, providing students access to online tools they can use without going to the career center is an effective way to reach more students without increasing staffing. And to the extent that technology can provide career counselors more timely information on each student’s career journey, their time with students can also be optimized.

In the long run, we believe senior administrators will be encouraged to focus more resources on the connection between academics and careers. Constituents including employers, parents, alumni and students themselves will demand it. In the meantime, stretching existing budget dollars to reach more students effectively is the only viable solution.