Spotlight for Career Services Professionals
About 10 years ago, Rowan University housed undeclared academic advising and career services in one center. However, the university’s growth rendered this arrangement ineffective.
“The model on campus was established, and it always had a very strong academic advising slant,” says Bob Bullard, director of the Rowan University Office of Career Advancement. “But as the university has been growing over the past 10 to 15 years, it wasn’t a sustainable model because we have way too many students for advising purposes.”
The offices split, and four years ago, Rowan implemented an academic advising redesign during which its president and senior leadership said they wanted a professional academic adviser for every student. Currently, Rowan is undertaking a plan to infuse career counseling with academic advising, and make this arrangement as seamless as possible.
“The idea is that if everyone has an academic adviser, why can’t they also have someone who is a career adviser or career specialist?” Bullard says. “We’re trying to make sure every college has someone who works with the advising team in this area to eliminate roadblocks long before students run into them. We’re looking at how we can streamline what we’re doing with student support to make sure that students are not only thriving here, but that they’re also thriving once they leave the university.”
Rowan has approximately 18,000 students, including 14,000 undergraduates, and the career advancement office is the hub for all career services.
“We’re the formal office on campus that handles careers, and we’re both centralized and decentralized,” Bullard points out. “We’re centralized in that we help every student, but we’re decentralized in that we don’t confer credits for internships and we don’t only work for specific departments.”
Rowan uses a proactive approach to career advising that engages students where they are instead of waiting for them to walk into the office. Staff started an “on-the-spot” campaign. Because the office is located in an administration-type building, staff members boost career advancement’s presence on campus by going to different buildings and events to engage students.
“We are at move-in day, sporting events, concerts,” Bullard says. “We’re applying a student affairs success model to careers and asking how we can get in front of students from Day One to make sure that a student who might not be looking for a job or internship today, knows us and knows that he or she can turn to us for support later. We might help students find a faculty mentor or the best place to eat on campus, so later on, when it’s time for career decision making or it’s time to find a job or internship, they know we’re here for them.”
This semester, Rowan’s career advancement office is starting to link up to other offices and departments, and their support staffs.
“The unique thing about advising at Rowan is that support is centrally run here; it’s not through the colleges,” Bullard adds. “We work with colleges, but everything comes back through our vice president of student success. We all report to the same place, which allows us to work much more cohesively than in a model where the college of business may do one thing and the college of humanities and social sciences may do another.”
Bullard says there was some initial resistance to the move to infuse the new, intentional student support model.
“But as we were growing, some of our metrics and KPIs stood out,” he says. “Our retention rate jumped up and our graduation rate is the highest on record in the last 25 years. We saw students taking more courses per semester. We saw them retaining at a higher rate. Once the metrics showed these positive gains, this model gained wide support.”
In terms of metrics, Rowan is tracking persistence to graduation rate and placement rate in addition to those previously mentioned.
“We want to make sure that we’re helping students while they’re here and preparing them for after college, whatever their next steps may be,” Bullard says. “It’s a very robust system. Plus, in many ways, when students come to a center like ours, they are like clay. When they’re meeting with advisers, we can help shape them based on their goals. If we can help them make informed decisions as freshmen and sophomores, they’re going to reap the benefits when they’re juniors and seniors and, hopefully, throughout their careers.”