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
"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
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.
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