Beckham R. Cordell, a first-year student at the University of Tampa studying education, interacted with the institution’s Spartan Ready professional and personal competencies even before he stepped on campus. In applying for the university’s Discover UT! leadership-based pre-orientation program, Cordell had to select a competency in which he hoped to become proficient. He chose professionalism, because “I want to be a teacher, and obviously I want my fellow faculty members and parents to trust me with their students.”
Even more generally, he says, “it’s just good to have the skills to present yourself in a way where people are going to take you seriously and actually think about your impact and your ideas.”
In just a few months on campus, Cordell has interacted with the nine other Spartan Ready pillars and stairs through curricular and co-curricular experiences, including swimming with manatees (teamwork), volunteering with Feeding Tampa Bay (interpersonal abilities) and articulating and prioritizing his own values in a leadership studies course (self-awareness).
He’s also expanded his career interests: while Cordell still plans to fulfill his long-term dream of becoming an elementary school teacher, he now wants to enroll in a four-plus-one master’s degree program with the goal of one day becoming a school principal. He’s minoring in leadership studies and therapeutic art, which potentially opens up other professional paths, as well.
Ultimately, Cordell says, college shouldn’t be about studying what he’s passionate about or preparing in practical ways for a career, because it’s not an either-or proposition.
“Colleges should definitely be touching on both,” he emphasizes. “A lot of people go into college and they’re undecided. And I know tons of people who have switched their majors or added a minor, so you don’t know where you’re going to end up in life. Even after you graduate college, you have no idea.”
He adds, “I want to be a teacher now, but I do have a therapeutic art minor. So if I wanted to work in a hospital, who knows?” Whatever happens, “I’ll still be able to use the Spartan Ready competencies.”
Tampa’s all-of-the-above–style take on preparing students for life after college aligns with those of respondents in the most recent Student Voice survey from Inside Higher Ed and College Pulse. The survey, circulated in November, asked 3,000 two- and four-year respondents questions about how their institutions are and should be preparing them life after college, namely their interactions with their career centers, career influencers and—in this new set of findings—integration of career preparation into the curriculum.
Asked which items from a list of outcomes are most important when it comes to their academic experience, respondents seem to value passion and practicality, along with breadth, relatively equally.
Students’ top three priorities are growing their knowledge in a subject area they’re passionate about (49 percent), growing their knowledge in a variety of other subject areas (42 percent) and developing specific skills needed for their careers (41 percent).
Respondents could select up to two options from eight total, and about a third of students who opted for passion also selected developing skills needed for their career and growing their knowledge across a variety of subject areas. Similarly, about four in 10 students who chose developing specific career-ready skills also selected studying what they’re passionate about, while nearly a quarter also selected learning across subject areas. And about four in 10 students who prioritized breadth of knowledge also prioritized passion, while nearly a quarter also chose career-specific skills.
No. 4 over all on respondents’ priority list is developing skills relevant to any job or career, meaning applied or what was formally known as “soft” skills, such as critical thinking (24 percent).
Leaving college with a clear idea of what they want to pursue is No. 5 (14 percent). Lesser priorities included having worked on a project or projects that can be added to their portfolio and establishing a relationship with a mentor, with fewer than one in 10 students each selecting these. Just 1 percent of students select “other.”
These findings are relatively consistent across institution types and student demographics, including age, major, financial aid status, gender, sexual orientation and political leaning, with a few exceptions. Community college students (n=583) are more likely than four-year students (n=2,417) to prioritize growing their knowledge across a variety of subject areas, at five in 10 versus four in 10 respondents, for instance.
By race, white (n=1,149) and Hispanic (n=422) students are likelier to prioritize growing their knowledge in a subject area they’re passionate about than are Asian (n=702) and Black (n=277) students, at about five in 10 each for the former groups versus closer to four in 10 each for the latter. White students are least likely to choose growing knowledge across a variety of subject areas, at not quite four in 10, while Black students are likeliest to prioritize breadth, at closer to five in 10. Relatively more white students also select developing skills needed for a career than do those from other racial groups.
Faculty Involvement in Career Preparation
Students’ views on career preparation and the curriculum have implications for the faculty, and a majority of Student Voice respondents—about seven in 10—say at least one professor has helped them explore potential careers or develop specific career skills, whether as part of a class or one-on-one. Nearly four in 10 students say that one professor has helped them in this way, while closer to three in 10 say multiple professors have helped.
Just over three in 10 students, however, say no professor has helped them explore or prepare for potential careers, with two-year college students more likely than four-year students to report this is the case, at 30 percent versus 37 percent, respectively.
Students at public institutions (n=2,187) are more likely than those at private nonprofit institutions (n=798) to say that no professor has helped them explore or prepare for a career, at 33 percent versus 26 percent. By major, students in the arts and humanities (n=347) are likeliest to say that more than one professor has helped them like this, at 41 percent versus 30 percent for the natural sciences (n=1,495) and 31 percent for the social sciences (n=1,291).
By race, relatively more Asian (36 percent) and Hispanic (37 percent) students than white (29 percent) and Black (29 percent) students indicate that no professor has helped them explore or prepare for a career.
Over all, 27 percent of students with expected 2024 graduation dates (n=1,196) haven’t gotten this kind of help from even one professor.
Shawn VanDerziel, president and CEO of the National Association of Colleges and Employers, who reviewed the Student Voice findings, says that developing job-specific skills and applied skills such as career management are increasingly important to this generation of students. Faculty members, he adds, can play an important role in the college-to-career journey. In this light, it’s not surprising that many students have received help from their professors. Still, he says he hopes that these professors “are working with experts from their career centers and professionals in industry to ensure that their advice is accurate and helpful.”
Timothy Harding, assistant vice president for career development and engagement at the University of Tampa, Cordell’s institution, says that faculty engagement is “critical” to the Spartan Ready initiative, since it aims to benefit most students—and all students interact with faculty members. Some professors are more on board than others, he acknowledges. But one key to increasing faculty uptake of the 10 competencies is describing them as more extractive than additive, adds Harding.
“What we found as we developed these and consulted with faculty members—and the liberal arts faculty especially have confirmed—that they are in fact teaching communication skills and interpersonal abilities, leadership, teamwork,” Harding explains. “So then, my question to the faculty is always ‘Do your students know that they’re learning that?’ What a competency initiative does is give us common language that we can talk with the students about.”
Another key to increasing faculty buy-in: framing the competencies not just in terms of career readiness but also academic readiness, social mobility and life preparedness.
“A competency initiative institutionwide that is solely focused on career readiness probably will have a lot of barriers and limitations,” Harding advises. To this point, one of the Spartan Ready pillars is life skills, which includes things like financial literacy.
What is the ideal level of faculty involvement in a student’s career preparation? On a scale of zero (no involvement) to five (highest level of involvement), just 2 percent of Student Voice respondents say a professor should have no involvement in helping them prepare for and launch a career. The largest share of students (32 percent) select level three, and nearly as many students select level four. Just 21 percent of students select level one or two.
Students ages 24 to 40 (n=254) are likeliest to want the most faculty involvement, with 23 percent of 24- to 29-year-olds (n=164) selecting level five, for example, compared to 14 percent of those 19 to 23 (n=1,788) and 16 percent of students over all.
By class type, relatively more students taking all their fall classes in person (n=1,479) want level-four or -five involvement than do students taking all their fall classes online (n=334), at 69 percent versus 58 percent, respectively. Among students taking a mix of online and in-person classes (n=1,187), it’s 64 percent.
Students also want a high level of involvement in career preparation and exploration from their academic advisers. Just 2 percent of respondents say that academic advisers should have no role in career prep, while the largest share of students, 35 percent, want a level-four involvement, exemplified in the survey as “Helping me design a course of study, including pointing me toward career-preparation courses, based on my career interests.”
Nearly as many students want the highest level of involvement, five, defined as “Helping me network and build connections in a given field, including with alumni.” Just 19 percent of students select level three, “Helping me explore career options based on my academic interests.”
Even fewer, 14 percent, select one or two, defined respectively as touching on careers during advising sessions and promoting the institution’s career services office and career-related events. This is generally consistent across student demographics and institution types.
Mako Miller, director of the Professional Career Escalators program at the University of Missouri at Kansas City—an all-major, four-year career-development program focusing on opportunities in health care, education, business, engineering and law and justice—says that both faculty and adviser involvement in career-readiness initiatives vary from institution to institution. Generally, though, she says, bringing both groups into conversations about career readiness and helping them achieve a level of comfort with it “would really just help students have a better understanding of why they’re here, connecting all these pieces so that they can see it’s cohesive: it’s not classes and academics and curriculum over here and career development over here. They should all be working together.”
Professional Career Escalators is just over a year old, benefiting 186 students so far. In addition to working with the campus career center, the program has a faculty fellow who is helping Miller devise a plan to engage more professors in its goals. Like Harding, Miller underscores the importance of involving faculty members, in particular, in career-readiness initiatives, since they are in continuous contact with all students.
“In partnership with career centers and programs like Career Escalators, we can really provide those resources to help faculty feel more comfortable having conversations about bringing this component into the classroom.”
With additional implications for faculty and the curriculum, there is general alignment in the Student Voice data between the kinds of experiential learning that students say is included or required in their programs of study or interest and what students say should be included or required.
The top five experience types that students say are included or required are: internships (52 percent), fieldwork (30 percent), undergraduate research (29 percent), clinical experiences (25 percent) and volunteering (21 percent).
The top five experiential learning types that students say should be included or required, meanwhile, comes close to mirroring that: internships (53 percent), fieldwork (36 percent), clinical experiences (28 percent), undergraduate research (27 percent) and volunteering (23 percent).
This kind of alignment is relatively consistent across institution types and student subgroups. Among four-year students, for example, 54 percent say internships are included or required by their program and 55 percent say they should be. Among two-year students, 44 percent say internships are included or required and 43 percent say they should be. Regarding undergraduate research, 32 percent of four-year students say it’s included or required and 30 percent say it should be, while 15 percent of two-year students say it’s included or required and 16 percent say it should be.
Less offered and less desired experiences for the group as a whole include simulations and role-playing, student teaching, and practicums, in a list of nine options.
Miller says experiential learning opportunities are important means of helping students make real-world connections to what they’re studying and helping them understand what they don’t want to pursue professionally as much as what they do. She endorses the idea of integrating experimental learning into course content, even in small ways, so that all students have a chance to experience it.
“That helps make it more equitable across the board.”
Send us a tip related to more easily integrating career-related content into courses.