Spotlight Online for Career Services Professionals, June 9, 2010
Running a career services program without conducting assessments of operations and services can be risky. Career centers that do so can suffer a loss of credibility on an institutional level and eschew using a powerful mechanism with which to gauge success or identify areas in need of improvement, explains Mary Feduccia, career services director at Louisiana State University (LSU).
“They also can’t properly assess their needs from a personnel, financial, or other standpoint,” she adds. “It’s difficult to fight for resources or develop an effective budget without the proof of need that assessment provides. Career centers that can’t demonstrate accountability really do run the risk of becoming extinct.”
Feduccia explains that comprehensive assessment programs are becoming increasingly frequent and imperative as budgets are shrinking and the focus on accountability is growing. Meanwhile, assessment programs for internal use remain beneficial to career centers because they allow them to improve the quality of their services and demonstrate whether or not their mission is being achieved.
At LSU, career services is part of the division of student life and, therefore, assessment is a divisional initiative. LSU has four primary service areas of career services; Each service area thoroughly assesses one aspect of its operations each year during a five-year cycle. During this process, the service areas develop a five-year assessment plan that identifies the service that will be assessed each year and the rationale for assessing it. Each year that the plan covers, staff determine expected outcomes and how the assessment will be performed, then, based on assessment results, identify actions to be taken.
“Having useable data is great, but the key is to act on the findings,” Feduccia says. “We’re closing the loop by determining the actions we need to take to grow and improve. The reports we compile based on our annual assessment include findings, student learning outcomes, and actions we need to take.”
Of course, the ultimate measure is the success of students in their job searches. With this in mind, Feduccia says it’s important for career centers to determine student learning outcomes based on use of career services.
“Assessment often tends to be about bare-level customer satisfaction,” she says. “Career services needs to assess what students are learning and how well we’re teaching them what they need to achieve success in their career development.”
LSU career services conducts a pre-appointment survey to assess student needs and guide the career counselor or coach to make sure the students’ needs are addressed. At the end of the appointment, LSU career services does a qualitative assessment to determine whether or not the students' needs were met, and, the next day, sends an appointment evaluation form to students, asking about the content covered and the quality of the customer service. Similarly, the career services office conducts assessments after events to make sure the content was valuable and attendees—students and employers—had positive experiences.
In addition to tracking data from students about their experiences with career services, LSU asks recruiters to evaluate each student they interview on six factors (using a scale from one to five) of job-search preparation to quantify the skill level of students who use the career center and identify students in need of career-development help. Feduccia says most recruiters are very willing to rate the students, and the data they submit provide “excellent insight” into the areas in which students are proficient or the gaps that need to be addressed.
“Results are confidential other than for career center use,” she points out. “We contact students who have low scores and invite them to come in for job-search assistance. Some students are receptive to these invitations, while others are not. In many cases, it's difficult to determine if a student is seeking help in response to one of these invitations or realizing through some other means that he or she needs job-search help.”
For career centers struggling with assessment, Feduccia says proper planning and possibly narrowing the view might lead to better efficiency and results. She recommends developing a long-range assessment plan over five years and conducting periodic internal self-studies.
"Use the NACE Professional Standards for College & University Career Services to do so,” she says. “Also, consider having an external review team assess career services. We used an assessment consultant program several years ago and found it very helpful. It gave us a lot of ammunition to use with upper administration on the needs we had. It was a strong voice because it was from a professional organization outside of the university that works with other college and university career centers.”
In the meantime, these career centers shouldn’t try to measure all aspects of their operations every year. This could lead to an assessment plan that lacks definition and is haphazard. Because of the intricacies involved with proper assessment, Feduccia suggests career centers form assessment committees composed of career services staff, others from across the university, and employers.
“Also, to get away from simply measuring customer service and student and employer satisfaction, career centers should vary the types of assessment tools they use,” she says. “The most common tools, of course, are surveys, but they should try using focus groups and other valid assessment methods, and include qualitative information information in addition to the more common quantitative data.”
Still, the biggest obstacle to having an effective assessment program remains a loss of momentum.
“It’s so easy to put assessment on the back burner, but career centers need to keep going with it,” Feduccia says. “It takes an entire process and a lot of work to be successful. Thoughtful planning, setting and adhering to deadlines, and following up on identified actions to close the loop are required for the assessment process to be as beneficial as possible.”
For information about LSU’s career services assessment, see http://appl003.lsu.edu/slas/career/careerweb.nsf/$Content/Assessment?OpenDocument.