September 10, 2018 | By NACE Staff
TAGS: graduate outcomes, best practices, branding and marketing, operations, surveys, spotlight
Spotlight for Career Services Professionals
The Oakland University Career Services Office has managed the data collection and reporting process for its students’ first-destination outcomes for more than two decades. Historically, career services published a comprehensive report of more than 80 pages of charts and graphs broken down by school and college to demonstrate post-graduation results for undergraduate students.
“In 2016, we launched an online dashboard for career outcomes in tandem with our traditional 85-page fact-focused report,” says Wayne Thibodeau, Oakland University’s senior director of career services. “We realized that because our fact-focused information now lives in the dashboard in a more accessible and customizable way, there was room for more creativity in our hard-copy publication.”
In 2017, the career center shifted to producing a magazine-style report that has been reduced to 18 pages and uses a story board approach and messaging consistent with Oakland University branding. The new report includes student success stories and employer testimonials alongside select key metrics to report outcomes.
“This was a critical transformation for telling our office story and demonstrating the value proposition we provide to the institution using student success stories,” Thibodeau explains. “Although we still wanted to appeal to the fact-finders and number-crunchers, we wanted to speak to the general population and see our data leveraged by more departments by speaking to individual success stories across disciplines and industries. The main point of the approach is that consumers of the material will get a feeling or build an emotional connection using stories, thus making our career outcomes more relatable and impactful.”
Thibodeau points out that by using student, alumni, and employer stories along with their images to represent the campaign, the audience can envision themselves in the storyteller’s shoes and connect with the point being driven home behind the story.
“This all ties back to our university communication and marketing efforts that have defined our characteristics—strong, proud, and experiential—instead of remaining exclusively evidence-based in our promotional materials,” he says. “As a result of this new publication and approach to communicating our outcomes, we are getting more questions and having collaborative discussions with leaders across the campus community about our process and protocol to collecting data.”
The career services office promotes and shares the first-destination outcomes with as many campus partners and key stakeholders as possible.
“First and foremost, we have been intentional about sharing our outcomes report with top leadership and administrators across the campus community to not only raise awareness about outcomes, but also to be responsive to their needs and develop new collaborative relationships as it relates to career outcomes data,” Thibodeau says.
“Given the ongoing challenges of student debt, rising costs for college education, and the economic challenges of today, it is critical we use the first-destination survey reports as a way to support the investment parents are making toward a college degree and for successful careers beyond college.”
The office also shares highlights of the magazine with parents of incoming freshman, which helps demonstrate the support and level of service it provides toward student success, and with prominent employer partners so they can see the investment career services and the university is making toward tracking, recording, and reporting career outcomes in the region.
“In addition, we distribute our report to admissions, academic deans, and our graduate dean to be shared with students and parents as a recruitment tool,” Thibodeau adds. “We also provide our first-destination survey outcomes with academic units and the president’s office to support accreditation efforts across the campus community.”
While the career services office maintains authority over creating and distributing the survey, it looks to the entire university for continuous partnership, innovation, and improvement. For example, it collaborates with individual units to create several standardized custom questions that are used to satisfy accreditation. In some cases, Thibodeau reports, the collaboration has resulted in the elimination of redundant surveys across campus by incorporating specific unit questions into the university-wide first-destination survey.
“Every year, we make it a priority to schedule individual meetings with each academic dean to report their freshly published school or college data, ignite interest and buy in, and gather feedback for refining our collection and reporting methods,” he says. “We also consult with institutional research and various data and IT experts across campus when we undergo major revisions.”
Despite the changes, challenges persist. Thibodeau says that one of the biggest challenges remains establishing trust and authority in the data, especially when the results are less than desirable.
“Year after year, we must continue to emphasize what information our data can and cannot say, and that despite any flaws or room for improvement, it is the best source of post-graduation success information available at our institution,” he says. “The fact that NACE publishes the Standards and Protocols for the Collection and Dissemination of Graduating Student Initial Career Outcomes for our industry provides additional integrity and a foundation to advance our assessment process supporting the immediate career outcomes of our graduates.”
To overcome these challenges, Thibodeau and his staff meet with stakeholders at least once a year as a group and individually to gain feedback, showcase improvements, and implement new ideas.
“We consult with institutional research and IT leaders to refine our methodology for efficiencies and effectiveness in reporting outcomes,” he explains.
In addition to conducting regular meetings with these key stakeholders and making adjustments based on their work together, Thibodeau offers several suggestions for career services offices for using and reporting data from first-destination surveys:
Explains Thibodeau: “It is vitally important to articulate the notion that successful career outcomes are everybody’s business so partnership building and collaboration efforts across the campus community can lead to great support and contribution toward a successful evaluation process for the university.”
Click here to see a video review of Oakland University’s First-Destination Survey Dashboard.
Percent of staff time spent student-facing
Median number of FTE professional staff
Median number of students per professional staff member
Percent of budget spent on personnel costs
Percent of career centers with employer partnership programs
Percent of career center leaders with title “executive director”
2019-20 Career Services Benchmark Survey Report