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In the newest Student Voice survey on life after college, about two-thirds of the 3,000 four- and two-year college respondents say they have interacted with their campus career center at least once. Of those students, about seven in 10 say that they’re aware of the services their career center offers, and about half say that their center is welcoming and offers a good variety of services.
Student feedback nosedives on satisfaction, however, with just 36 percent of students saying they’re satisfied with the career center services they’ve used. Similarly, just 32 percent agree that their center’s services are effective. The survey, by Inside Higher Ed and College Pulse, was conducted last month.
While very few students express outright dissatisfaction with the services they’ve used, or agree that their center services are explicitly ineffective, students are over all lukewarm at best on career center satisfaction and effectiveness. This is somewhat consistent across most subgroups of students and institution types—not great news for career-related student success efforts. But two subgroups of students have especially low satisfaction rates: nonwhite students and online students.
Here’s how it breaks down by major racial group: whereas 45 percent of white students in the survey express satisfaction with the career center services they’ve used, just 29 percent of Asian students do, along with 32 percent of Black students and 29 percent of Hispanic students. Similarly, 38 percent of white students say that their career center services are effective, compared to 26 percent of Asian students, 28 percent of Black students and 30 percent of Hispanic students.
Among four-year respondents, 46 percent of white students are satisfied with the services they’ve used, compared to 31 percent of nonwhite students. Among community college respondents, 39 percent of white students are satisfied versus 25 percent of nonwhite students.
This doesn’t necessarily appear to be impacting nonwhite students’ overall engagement levels with career services. By major racial group, white students in the survey have the highest nonengagement rate, with 36 percent never having interacted with their career center (Black students have the lowest, at 20 percent). But from an equity standpoint, the findings on satisfaction and effectiveness suggest that white and nonwhite students are experiencing their career centers differently.
And in the sample over all, higher satisfaction rates are correlated with increased use of career center services: 26 percent of students who have interacted with their career center just once are satisfied with the services used, compared to 39 percent of students who have used their center two to five times and 47 percent of students who have used their center six or more times.
By class type, students enrolled in online-only courses have significantly lower satisfaction and effectiveness rates for their college or university career centers than students taking some or all of their classes in person. For example, 28 percent of students taking all their classes online this term say they’re satisfied with the career center, versus 37 percent of students taking all their classes in person and 37 percent of students taking classes both online and in person. On effectiveness, just 21 percent of all-online students say their center services work, compared to 34 percent of students taking a mix of classes and 32 percent of students studying exclusively in person.
Making Career Centers for Work for Students of Color
Emily Frank, an independent career counselor and coach and member of the National Career Development Association’s diversity initiatives and cultural inclusion committee, says, “Students of color, in particular, need career centers that look like them.” Career center leaders can get “serious about diversity” not just by hiring more staff members of color but also by showing up for clubs and graduation events for nonwhite students.
In addition, Frank says, career counselors should avoid “giving advice that amounts to telling students to code-switch at work” and should be “sensitive to the many ways students of color are discriminated against, implicitly and explicitly, on college campuses.” The NCDA maintains a webpage with social justice resources, including books, courses and ongoing efforts to promote DEI in the career counseling field.
The National Association of Colleges and Employers also offers a diversity and inclusion checklist for career centers seeking to benchmark their progress on this front. Considerations vary by stage and include:
- Does the center have a diversity, inclusion and nondiscrimination statement on its public site, and does it include training for faculty and staff on diversity and inclusion topics? (Still establishing benchmarking)
- Does the center make diversity and inclusion a core value and goal tied to strategic plans and goals? (Establishing)
- Has the center adopted specific outreach initiatives targeting diverse student groups? (Already established benchmarking)
- Does the center promote on- and off-campus recruitment and job fair activities targeted to minority, disabled and international populations? (Established)
- Are there tracking and reporting systems in place for diversity and inclusion activities and accomplishments? (Advanced benchmarking)
- Has the center evaluated recent graduate outcomes to determine if minority student populations are obtaining employment at the same rate as nonminority students? (Advanced)
- Has the center evaluated services on the institution’s annual climate survey regarding feedback of services? (Advanced)
NACE’s 2022–23 Career Services Benchmark Report found that just 45 percent of respondents collect data on who is using their career center by demographic group, and about a third of those report that data to their institutions. NACE has previously stated that this kind of data gap is a barrier to assessing the equity of career services across student populations.
Putting Career Centers to Work for Online Students
Regarding online students, Frank says that their needs often center on not feeling welcomed in, or part of, campus life generally. Institutions therefore “need to be more intentional about building community for those students on all fronts, not just the career offices.” That said, online students could benefit from a career counselor on staff whose primary audience is online students—someone "who can reach out to those students, get to know the demographic well and provide specific services.”
Similarly, Chris Miciek, director of the Center for Career Success at Thomas Jefferson University, says that institutions with online or even commuter students expressing lower career center satisfaction may want “to look at just how well they’ve established accessibility for those students.” Online learners haven’t historically had access to core campus services, he says, “at least in ways that made sense to them and their needs. It is not enough to have a website with some resources, no matter how good they are.”
Miciek, via NACE, has proposed considerations for career centers seeking to adapt to an online context for sharing their expertise, including:
- How frequently is the center assessing students’ perceived needs, specifically their preferred modes of communication?
- Does the center have professional staff equipped for online career coaching? Does it have professional staffers who are digitally conversant and curious?
- Can the center access campus instructional designers? If so, are they driving quality into online educational offerings, or is the center better off creating and maintaining content itself?
- What assessments and reporting are in place regarding the online student population and online services?
Miciek cautions that online students can’t be treated as “afterthoughts in the campus community,” as many online programs were “launched as a bid for tuition dollars without close attention to enfolding those students into the larger institution’s community.”
He adds, “Treat [online students] like they matter as much as the student on campus, they’ll notice it.”
What has your career center done to measure and increase student satisfaction? Tell us about it.