Preparing Students for the Future: Questions to Ask Colleges about Career Education

By Christine Y. Cruzvergara and Joseph A. Testani

Investing in higher education today is an important decision for any family to consider. The media is rife with stories about the value of higher education, the return on investment and the significance of certain majors in today’s economy. Coincidentally, there is also extensive discussion around employer expectations of how colleges and universities are preparing the future workforce. Employers are questioning what is taught and how we—as universities and colleges—prepare students for the rapidly changing future.
We have been working in the field of career education for 30 years combined. However, more important than our number of years of service to colleges and universities is our interest in staying at the forefront of trends impacting our field and the students and families whom we serve on a daily basis. We’ve given a great deal of thought to the changing landscape of higher education and how we can better serve the students on our campuses and prepare them to be career ready for a fast-changing world of work.

Below are categories of questions we encourage student(s) and their families to ask when choosing a college or university. We believe our colleagues from all institutions should be thinking about the future of work, how we tackle these evolving challenges and how to best partner with parents and families to prepare our students.

1. Career readiness and an integrated approach. Career readiness is the basic concept of preparing students for their careers after college. Typically, institutions will talk about competencies such as the ones developed by the National Association of Colleges and Employers in 2015. This can be taken to the next level when a career education office strategically coordinates efforts with other units around campus to intentionally map out and prepare students with the necessary competencies through their curricular and co-curricular experiences.

  • Does this institution have a strategy for developing competencies (career, general, institution-specific)? Who is involved on campus in competency development and what do they hope students develop by the end of their time in school?
  • What is the institution’s philosophy around career readiness–a more linear approach or broad skill development? How does its philosophy align with your personal one? Is it a good fit for the student?
  • How many departments contribute to career readiness and work with the career education office to prepare students in an integrated, coordinated way?
  • How does the institution promote and support internships and other forms of experiential learning (e.g. research, internships, study abroad, etc.)? Is it required? Is it embedded into the curricular experience?

2. Career education and exploration operations.

The core of any career education operation is how well an office engages and serves students (both the % of student body engaged and the depth of engagement). How it approaches that can differ widely depending on the type of college or university but having a strategy is a core expectation no matter what.

  • Does career education at the college or university have a model they can describe to you?
  • How does the college and career education track student engagement? What is the reputation of career education among the students?
  • Ask the students about their experiences with the career education office. How often do they ask students about their needs?

3. Commitment to career.

A commitment to career education goes beyond words and the admissions guidebook. We believe it is critical to question and participate in discussions about how much an institution has invested and how that looks on their campus. It is also important to note that many institutions are in a state of change around career education so there may be plans in the works to invest and commit more resources to the operation.

  • How many staff members has the institution committed to career education initiatives? How have they mobilized these individuals to scale efforts?
  • How has the commitment to career education changed over the past five years?
  • When it comes to internships and experiential learning, has the institution established funding to help support students and to ensure access to all students?
  • If the opportunity presents itself, ask the senior administration (president, provost, VP) what percentage of the university’s budget is dedicated to career education efforts

4. Future of work.

Lastly, it is important to know if an institution is academically and professionally preparing students for what is to come (and in some cases, what is already here). We recently wrote an article about the future of work and how career education offices can begin to position themselves, their students and their institutions for the evolving world of work.

  • How is your institution identifying and staying on top of future-of-work trends?
  • How is the institution, faculty and the career education office preparing or positioning their students to respond to future-of-work trends?
  • What are the critical challenges and how is the institution teaching students’ agility, adaptability and resilience?

We recognize there are a myriad of factors that go into choosing a college or university that “fits” a student, and we know that with such a large investment, concerns about the future are natural. We hope our questions provide an alternative and additional framework for approaching campus visits, discussions and deliberations. We encourage you to engage our colleagues in career education, ask them questions and look for opportunities to partner with them in preparing your student for life beyond the walls of the institution.

Christine Y. Cruzvergara is associate provost and executive director for career education at Wellesley College and a member of NEBHE’s Commission on Higher Education & Employability. Joseph A. Testani is assistant dean and executive director of the Gwen M. Greene Center for Career Education + Connections at the University of Rochester.

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

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