To best serve a total student body, it is incumbent upon career centers to evaluate exactly who is using their services and how they are promoting their services, says Jennifer Fonseca.
“Making decisions about marketing, programming, and serving without looking at the data is blind leadership,” says Fonseca, associate director of career development at Palm Beach Atlantic University.
“Even basic business courses teach students to conduct target market research. By tracking the demographics of who attends career fairs and workshops, and schedules appointments with career staff allows us to identify who is using our services and who is missing out on these valuable resources. Knowing who isn’t coming is just as important as identifying who is.”
Once career centers identify what demographics of students are missing, they can begin to identify why these students are not showing up and then create strategies to better reach those groups, so that all students are served well.
Palm Beach Atlantic University’s career development office collects the ID numbers of every student who attends an on-campus recruiting event (career fair, networking event, and more), a classroom presentation, a career office-sponsored workshop or program, and all walk-in and scheduled appointments.
Career center staff then take the ID numbers to identify who is attending career events or coming in for services. They break down the data by race/ethnicity, gender, class year, and major. That data is then compared against the data found in Palm Beach Atlantic’s fact book that similarly breaks down the student population by various demographic identifiers.
“We were pleased to find when we initially conducted this analysis that those who came in for appointments and attended events matched the overall student demographics within one to two percentage points,” Fonseca notes.
“We used an international student from Mozambique to assist us with this project, as she was passionate about both ensuring all student groups were represented and because she loved working with data. It was a win-win. I am now in search of another student who is equally excited about data and this project, as our former student has since graduated.”
Fonseca explains that tracking the demographics of the students who use services also helps the career development office in other ways.
“Doing so helps us to be more sensitive in our marketing efforts so that the images on our marketing collateral accurately represents our student population,” Fonseca says.
“So instead of opting for the guy in the tie, we sourced more women—we have a higher female student population—and individuals of color. Recently, we launched our career closet with a fashion show. It was important to us to showcase models who not only represented various racial and ethnic groups, but also varying in height and weight, which shows that regardless of who you are, there is professional dress for all students.”
The career development office shared the data with several deans to enhance partnerships.
“Once we identified majors where students were not using our services,” Fonseca says, “it allowed better partnerships with academic departments. Just this year, several Composition I professors invited me into their classrooms to conduct LinkedIn workshops. Again, it’s a win-win to help all students become career-ready.”
In addition, the Palm Beach Atlantic University career development center used the demographic information it collected to intentionally seek out and hire students who match the school’s overall student demographics for front desk staff and Career Peer positions.
Demographic information is valuable because it could also reveal that there is an entire segment of students who are not receiving career center services.
“This is crucial to know especially with more first-generation students entering college and students who may not have access to the paid services of resume writers and career coaches,” Fonseca says.
“Once the data is collected and analyzed, career centers should share the data and hold discussions with groups that can help advocate and encourage the demographic that is not using the services. This can clearly identify why this is the case. Is it because these students are unaware? Are the students not comfortable with the staff? Identifying who is not coming in or attending is just the first step. Next is to identify why, and then adjust practices to address those reasons.”
Fonseca offers several other suggestions for effectively tracking student demographics and using that information to identify and work to fill in gaps or address inequities, including:
- Creating this as an internship or mini project for a student who is interested in Excel and data analyzation.
- Using your career management system to do the heavy work. Palm Beach Atlantic University’s career development office works through the data mining, despite having just two full-time staff and a handful of federal work-study students because, Fonseca stresses, it is too important a task to not do.
- Making sure to benchmark the data and to use consistent start/end dates so the data that is being compared is from similar timeframes.
- Communicating the story of the data. Show deans and faculty, and publish in board of trustee reports.
- Adapting your marketing and programming to meet the true needs of the student body.
“Also, do target market research,” Fonseca adds.
“My goal is to do additional target market research; to conduct surveys and focus groups to better drill down and determine if we are offering the services students need and want and offering these services at the times and in the delivery manner in which students prefer.”
Fonseca believes that education could take a cue from entrepreneurs and start-ups that engage in a number of experiments and data analysis to determine how to refine their products, services, and marketing tactics. She conducted a mini-experiment this past fall during which she asked students if they visited to get a resume review, and what they knew about Palm Beach Atlantic University’s Career Peer Program.
“What I found was that students didn’t trust their peers to help them,” she points out.
“When I mentioned that our Career Peers receive more than 20 hours of resume training and go through a certification process—online quizzes and a faculty-evaluated mock review—it changed their mind about the level of preparedness of our Career Peers. For this year’s training, I secured a faculty member to conduct the final certification exam, which gained faculty confidence. We also added a ‘certified’ icon and the phrase ‘Trained and Certified Career Peers’ to all of our marketing.”
Fonseca says that these small tweaks that are the result of collecting, analyzing, and acting on data have made a big difference. Furthermore, she adds, career centers that don’t track demographics run the risk of missing the mark at the very least and underserving or not serving students.
“This is negligence,” Fonseca says.
“To serve students well, you need to know who you are serving and honor all students in the process.”