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Reinvent Career Services to Create Pathways to Employability


To help students develop career readiness skills and prepare for work, related content should be embedded in coursework, writes Provost Kerry Fulcher.

What do undergraduates want from professors? I found students’ responses to this question from a survey conducted by Inside Higher Ed and College Pulse both compelling and familiar in that the top three answers all deal with employability expectations. When asked what kind of guidance they sought beyond the core task of teaching them course materials, by far the highest percentage (57 percent) of respondents to the Student Voice survey say they want professors to introduce them to people working in their fields of interest. That is followed closely by the desire for advice from professors on choosing a career direction (54 percent), and then 47 percent want help landing their first internship or job.

As provost of Point Loma Nazarene University (PLNU), where I am overseeing a radical reinvention of our career services activities, these findings simply underscore the pressing need to rethink how we serve students. I aspire to accommodate students’ desire for authentic, focused career advice in which faculty play a central role.

We already know from the CIRP College Freshmen survey from the Higher Education Research Group at the University of California, Los Angeles, that 85 percent of students nationwide say getting a job is a key factor in their decision to go to college. Two-thirds rank financial security as their top motivation for pursuing a degree. Of the needs students expect college to provide, half are career related. And not surprisingly, the Inside Higher Ed/College Pulse survey, conducted with support from Kaplan, provides renewed evidence that students expect their faculty to be actively involved in helping them reach these goals.

A combination of program review, staff turnover and other one-time factors gave my institution—a small, private, faith-based liberal arts university in Southern California—a unique opportunity to show how our tiny corner of the higher ed world could better address students’ expectations. We are making career readiness more central to what we do, both inside and outside the classroom.

If equity in student access to career services functions is one of our commitments, there couldn’t be a clearer way of conveying this to all concerned than by housing it in academics.

Our students, especially our first-generation students—and their parents—have been telling us for a while that they need their college education to lead to an unmistakable return on investment. That means we need the degrees we provide to develop career readiness skills and offer clear pathways to student employability. We are beginning to do just that, using a mixture of organizational restructuring, faculty development and distinct programmatic reforms.

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