College’s Career Curriculum Based on Competency Development

November 18, 2019 | By NACE Staff

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TAGS: best practices, competencies, for-profit colleges, nace insights, program development,

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LIM College is focused on the business of fashion. Located in Manhattan, it has an enrollment of approximately 1,800 students. It also has a unique new career education structure that is based on the NACE Career Readiness Competencies and that will allow the career center to conduct longitudinal research.

LIM College’s career center is comprised of 10 full-time staff, approximately 50 adjunct faculty, and up to five career peers. It features three overarching teams: the career coaching team, the career education team (which is where the adjunct faculty are housed), and the employer relations and operations team.

Each academic department across the college was tasked with updating its undergraduate curriculum as part of an institution-wide initiative to refresh and enhance the entire undergraduate academic experience. The career center oversaw the career education element, launching new courses this fall, and is in the very early stages of collecting data and conducting assessments.

“This is a component of how our career center is structured,” says Andrew Seguel, senior associate director of career education and coaching.

“We are a service-providing department that offers career coaching, but we are also an academic department with the career education component because our office manages the career education requirement of all students.”

This includes five career education courses—including two internships and one senior co-op—that all students, regardless of major, are required to complete. These courses include:

  • Internship Prep – Designing Your Career;
  • Internship 1;
  • Internship 2;
  • Senior Co-op Prep – Launching Your Career; and
  • Senior Co-op.

“This past academic year, we had the opportunity to revamp the curriculum from scratch,” Seguel says.

“The work started with looking at student and faculty evaluations from the previous curriculum. We held brainstorming sessions with specific faculty to get their input into what components we might want to include in the new curriculum. We created these five courses and launched it in September.

“If I can borrow the design thinking terminology, that was our prototyping, and we’re now in the testing phase this academic year. We’re going to continue to collect faculty, student, and employer feedback on the curriculum, and make further revisions over time.”

Seguel points out that one of the significant elements of the five courses is that in Internship Prep—the first career development course—students are introduced to the NACE Competencies.

“They go through a self-assessment that includes identifying opportunities to develop those areas,” he explains.

“It’s a foundational lesson on the competencies so students become familiar with them.”

Another key addition is that the Internship 1, Internship 2, and Senior Co-op courses now include midterm and final evaluations, whereas the former experiential education assignments only included a final evaluation.

The evaluations are identical, with the supervisor using a one-to-five Likert scale to assess the students on the eight career readiness competencies.

“Our hope is that since our students have three required experiences before they graduate, we can do a longitudinal study to see how the competencies of students develop from the midpoint of their first internship to the time they graduate,” Seguel says.

The focus on career readiness is crucial at LIM College.

LIM College is a for-profit institution. Given that status, Seguel says, “The responsibility to demonstrate the benefit of LIM College’s curriculum is even more important.”

“One of the brand promises of LIM College is its strong focus on hands-on learning, which is why we require three professional experiences prior to graduation. Even in the language that our college uses, we note that students will be career ready by the time they graduate.”

He points out that, although LIM College had a 93 percent placement rate for the most recent graduating class, that number is a measure of employment outcomes only.

“That doesn’t necessarily speak to the career readiness of our students in terms of a set of competencies,” Seguel says.

“We want to make sure that the competencies as described by NACE are being assessed. In our previous final evaluation for the old curriculum, we had various attributes that were being assessed, like punctuality, that could probably align with the career readiness competencies. However, there was no intentional analysis of the association between these variables or attempt to link them to larger constructs. Therefore, we want to use the actual language and phraseology from NACE to begin introducing the widely supported concept of career readiness competencies to our students, our employers, and college-wide, because, prior to this, there wasn’t a lot of discussion about or understanding of competencies as defined by NACE.”

He says that by implementing the competencies in this measurable way with a midpoint and an endpoint in one semester, LIM College can show that experiential education helps to develop competencies over the course of a single experience.

“We also want to show that there’s significant growth over multiple experiences over time,” Seguel adds.

“Given that students cannot repeat the same work experience for our courses, our students are going to be assessed by three different individuals over time. We hope to show that competencies can be assessed somewhat objectively over different experiences and by different individuals who are seeing the same things.”

At the end of the semester, Seguel and his colleagues will examine the data they collect for differences in how Internship 1, Internship 2, and Senior Co-op students were assessed.

“If all of our students are measuring the same across the board, that potentially implies that our student population comes to college with their career readiness competencies already in great shape,” he explains.

“This isn’t necessarily an unfounded possibility because many of our students know what they’re getting into with the hands-on learning and many have prior work experience.”

To account for this, the career center team will filter out students who come to LIM with prior work experience since they might have developed these competencies at a higher level than someone who does not have prior work experience.

“We’re going to see what the difference is across the three and then make improvements to how the instructions on assessing the competencies are being delivered to supervisors,” Seguel explains.

“By doing so, they can make a better distinction in terms of what the difference is between, say, a three and four versus between a four and a five. Also, we want to clarify the impact of the assessment on the student’s academic performance.”

He explains that for Internship 1 and Internship 2, the midterm and final assessments have no impact on a student’s final grade. In Senior Co-op, the midterm also has no impact. Furthermore, if the student gets all threes on the final assessment of the Senior Co-op, his or her grade doesn’t change as this indicates a standard level of competency. However, if the student gets anything below a three, his or her letter grade gets reduced, while the letter grade can go up for any score above a three.

“We want employers to know that if they evaluate a student at a two, which we have labeled ‘developing,’ there’s not going to be a negative academic impact on the student in Internship 1,” Seguel says.

“We expect that students should be getting twos in Internship 1. As opposed to this being seen as a negative, it’s helping the students to understand that the supervisor thinks they are developing and could use some additional attention in a given competency.”

Seguel suggests that career centers looking to incorporate the NACE Career Readiness Competencies into their efforts take any opportunity to directly build in the competencies—especially their language and definitions—into existing work. For instance, if you have existing supervisor evaluations, replace the language and concepts currently being assessed by related competencies. If you have an existing workshop discussing resume development or interviewing strategies, link your discussion of transferable skills to competencies. Create a shared language across your institution, not by insisting that new work be created, but by finding ways to translate current work into the language of competencies. If possible, introduce the foundational concepts of competencies to students early and often, especially in their first year in a required course to set the foundation of their career education.

“The second thing is working with employers to update their evaluation of students to incorporate the language,” he says.

“Also, when initiating conversations with employers about this change, we provided them with a drafted template of what the new evaluation would look like, rather than engaging in a theoretical discussion of it.  We provided them with a workable, usable evaluation.”

Seguel says that if you can provide your partners, both employers and campus partners, with pre-built material that they can simply insert into their work—along with anticipated time considerations—that usually goes a long way toward getting a “yes.” For example, if first-year experience wants to do the career readiness self-assessment for students, let staff there know how much time the student would need for prework before class and how much time the activity would take go over with students during class, and provide them with the materials.

“Sometimes, when introducing a new idea to campus and employer partners, their initial reaction is that this is going to be a really heavy lift and it’s going to take a lot of time,” Seguel notes.

“If you give them the expected time commitment and materials, and explain the benefits, more often than not, they will come on board.”

LIM’s prior evaluation included approximately 50 questions and, as Seguel describes, it was laborious. Now, the email the career center sends to employers advertising the updated evaluation includes teaser stats indicating the number of questions on the previous evaluation, and noting that the new evaluation includes just 12 questions.

“Pointing out that it is easier for them not only for evaluating students, but that it’s easier to implement has made a big difference for us in selling it to them,” Seguel says.

He is excited to see what the results of this year’s data show. In the meantime, although the initiative is still in its infancy, Seguel is looking for ways to make the process more efficient and yield greater benefit so that the LIM College Office of Career and Internship Services will be able to determine the impact of experiential education paired with curricular assignments on students’ career readiness.