• The Events Leading to the Creation of the College Placement Council

    NACE 50th Anniversary Reflections & Projections: John Steele

    When John Steele was a student at Indiana University during the late 1930s and early 1940s, there was just one professor to help with the placement of graduating students. It was inadequate.

    Steele made it his life work to provide for others what he did not have. Steele retired in 1982 after a long career that included work at Boston College, Harvard Business School, and The Ohio State University. He was also instrumental in the formation of the College Placement Council (CPC), which eventually became NACE.

    Steele recalls that as a time charged with excitement and frustration. While the World War II years saw a respite in hiring, the years that followed the war brought frenetic recruiting activity, Steele says. Small budgets, however, prevented college placement offices from offering more to students than interview scheduling.

    The late 1940s saw the formation of several regional placement associations. Even though college representatives were the primary leaders in the formation of nearly all of the placement associations, it was not because of a lack of employee involvement. In fact, as Steele points out, the leaders "had the support and cooperation of many industrial members who worked diligently behind the scenes to help the educators with their attempts to organize a formal structure."

    The reason for this system of governance was simple: With this type of arrangement, the placement organizations could avoid being taxed by the federal government.

    "The IRS took the viewpoint that if an organization was profitable it had to pay taxes," Steele explains. "It believed that organizations that were run by college people were nonprofit, while those run by business people had to pay taxes on the income they brought in. To avoid being taxed, we had college people in all of the governing offices in the placement field. Slowly, this view relaxed and we finally got the IRS off our back."

    Employers did a lot of advising then and, "because college people had small budgets, the employers were very helpful in paying the expenses of college people traveling to conferences," Steele recalls. "Chances are if we got along with each other, an employer would lend a hand with transportation. For instance, I remember being at Ohio State and Ford [Motor Company] flew planes in to Columbus to pick a group of us up for a meeting in Chicago. "

    While the number of regional placement organizations grew, there still was not a unified voice for the profession. Steele wrote in his piece "A Brief Look Back…a Confident Look Ahead" that ran in the December 1972-January 1973 edition of the Journal of College Placement that: "In 1950, the Korean War began. The entire college placement field was embarrassed because no one could answer an inquiry from the U.S. government as to the viewpoints or recommendations on the military draft. Although there were a good number of organizations by that time in the placement field, there was no real coordination of activities so that no one could serve as a spokesman in dealing with the federal government."

    Talk of collaboration among the regions gained steam. As the regional associations continued to grow in both size and complexity, it became obvious that coordination and communication on a larger scale would require the creation of a national association. That realization led to the work to form CPC.

    The new association-with its foundation in the Journal of College Placement-served an immediate need. Besides serving as a clearinghouse of information invaluable to career services and staffing professionals, it provided the profession with a national presence and a voice that-when needed-could answer any call.

    One such call came during a meeting in the early 1960s, when the director of the United States Employment Services (U.S.E.S.) "admitted that the objective of his agency was to take over the placement function of all colleges in the United States," Steele explains. "The people who attended the meeting were furious."

    The director went as far as to tell placement personnel attending the meeting that he would have their jobs within five years. Needless to say, college placement officials and employers were shocked by the government's plans.

    The argument the U.S.E.S. presented to the colleges, Steele says, was that the government could provide placement services to colleges and their students for free.

    "Some colleges at that time were not too supportive of the idea of having placement organizations in the first place," Steele says. "The U.S.E.S. was very persuasive and influential with some college presidents."

    CPC and the regional organizations joined together in the fight and according to Steele, after a lot of hard work, successfully rebuffed the U.S.E.S.'s attempts to take over the placement of college students. Talk of the government taking over the placement function on all U.S. college campuses eventually died down, primarily because-for the first time-the voice of the profession was heard loud and clear.