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  • Lessons Learned From an External Review

    March 22, 2017 | By NACE Staff

    Best Practices
    A young man presents a self-study to a panel of external reviewers.

    TAGS: best practices, assessment, spotlight, standards

    Spotlight for Career Services Professionals

    One challenge of effectively building on a past model of career services is determining what the next building blocks might look like, says Kerri Day Keller, executive director of the career center at Kansas State University (K-State).

    “It is challenging to create a vision for a new model that is relevant to one’s institutional context and yet hopeful about what lies ahead” Keller adds. “An internal self-study and external review of career services at K-State proved to be a valuable investment of energy, time, and resources to identify new possibilities for its future.”

    Keller explains that the primary motivation for the review was to comprehensively assess career services—then known as career and employment services (CES)—to inform strategic planning and operational transitioning to a new facility in 2016. Using NACE’s Professional Standards, CES completed an extensive internal review of its departmental operations.

    “Overall, the internal self-study suggested that we have a strong centralized career services unit that is an asset to the university, employers, alumni, and K-State’s 24,000 students,” Keller says. “However, the summary also acknowledged that there were existing needs and emerging issues that presented new challenges and opportunities.”

    The self-study was presented to an external review team assembled from highly respected professionals in the field who serve aspirational peer institutions. Members of the team were Gail Rooney of the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana, Tim Luzader of Purdue University, and Leigh Turner of Texas A&M University.

    Keller notes that the team was charged with offering feedback about clarity of the CES mission, relevance of existing organizational practices, and appropriateness of the department’s organizational structure. In addition, the review was designed to help answer the following questions:

    • What are the organizational strengths of CES?
    • What are the most critical growing edges?
    • How should CES move forward with clarifying its mission as new professional/career development models emerge across the university and throughout the career services field?
    • What are the organizational changes, advancements, and resources needed to exceed standards in the application of technology to career services?
    • Upon its move to the Welcome Center, how can CES best accommodate expectations for shared services in human resources, technology, and/or financial management?
    • What significant opportunities exist that CES is uniquely poised to seize?

    After examining the self-study and more than 200 accompanying documents, the external review team conducted a three-day, on-site visit at K-State. The agenda included meetings with campus constituents in student life, academic colleges, administration, and support services, as well as students, employers, and career services staff members. More than 75 individuals and 36 departments and units participated during the campus visit.

    Following its work on site, the review team provided a written report that addressed the department’s strengths, challenges, and opportunities. The 27-page report described several suggestions for enhancing the impact of career services at K-State. Key recommendations included:

    • Adding staff to fully execute its mission and service to the campus community.
    • Reorganizing responsibilities and the reporting structure.
    • Shifting the paradigm of student engagement to focus on the new student.
    • Integrating the services of CES and the academic and career information center (ACIC).

    A complete report was shared with all career services staff members and student life leadership. Executive summaries were distributed to all who participated in the campus visit. Within two months of receiving the report, the department’s first major change was enacted by the vice president of student life as he moved reporting of ACIC to CES.

    “As the career center, we are now well-positioned to raise our visibility, deepen our campus engagement, and align with mission-critical university imperatives to ensure a vibrant future,” Keller says.

    To maximize the value of an external review, Keller has several recommendations:

    • Be ready to commit the necessary time and effort to the process—Career center staff might think that skipping the self-study is a reasonable shortcut. However, it's important that you do your own assessment of where you are because it will allow the external reviewers to understand your center better and dig deeper during their assessment. Because the entire staff participated in the self-study, it was easier for staff members to buy in to the opinions of the external review team.
    • Be inclusive—This was important to secure buy in across campus. K-State included 75 individuals and 36 departments/units—even those that hadn’t had much contact with career services—in the external review team’s campus visit. Even if some of these participants weren't able to provide a great deal of input, including them was an opportunity to win over new champions for the career center and build new relationships.

    Keller says K-State’s external review process was a worthwhile undertaking.

    “It's hard to take a different perception about our future without input from others outside of our current reality,” Keller says. “In this case, the input came from peers who we aspire to be like, which was incredibly valuable. The process also gave us an opportunity to be intentional about assessing where we are, who we are, and who we want to be.”

    Note: In addition to the Professional Standards, NACE provides members with Guidelines for Internal and External Review of Career Services.