University of Vermont first-year student Sarah Kamphuis of Thetford, Vt., looks at internship and work-study possibilities with Pamela Gardner, EdD., director at UVM's The Hub Career + Experience Center at the Davis Center. / Ryan Mercer, Free Press
University of Vermont seniors used to have to go out of their way to get to the career center. That changed last fall, when the center was handed a piece of prime real estate on the first floor of the school's bustling student center.
The high-profile location signals a new priority for the campus, one that's echoing at colleges coast to coast. Under growing pressure to demonstrate the return on investment of a college education, many schools are boosting their attention to jobs and careers.
The University of Texas System just launched an interactive website that enables students and parents to see what recent graduates in their major are earning. The University of Southern California in Los Angeles now trains academic advisers and faculty in career counseling. Even before classes started last fall, entering freshmen at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minn., were invited to take a personality inventory as a first step toward exploring vocation.
The campus career office has long been a fixture at colleges, "but somehow it wasn't central to the mission of a university," says University of Vermont career center director Pamela Gardner, who has been in the field for 27 years. Once, the attitude was," 'Of course they're going to get jobs because they're getting smarter while they're here.' Now, the big idea is to engage students early and often and to make career development part of the culture."
An upgrade in services also reflects the changing nature of the workplace, says Andy Chan, who heads career programming at Wake Forest University, in Winston-Salem, N.C., one of the earliest adopters of a more career-focused campus. Unlike earlier generations, young professionals today are likely to switch jobs multiple times, he says. "It's imperative for universities to help equip young people with the tools and the mindset of, 'How am I going to be employable over my lifetime?' "
As unemployment rates for new graduates rose during the Great Recession and amid growing alarm over student debt, a certain "duh" factor is in play. "Parents and students and politicians were looking around at what's happening and saying, 'What's the rate of return?' " says Carl Martellino, executive director at the University of Southern California's career center.
A study published in January by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York offers little solace. True, college graduates ages 22 to 27 fared better overall finding work than young adults their age without a degree. But over the past decade, new college graduates have increasingly been working in either low-wage jobs or part-time jobs that don't require a bachelor's degree. By age 27, just 27% of college graduates had a job that was closely related to their major.
Some states and universities are taking steps to make salaries more transparent. The University of Texas System database shows average earnings for graduates in their first and fifth years out of college, along with how much they owed. The database includes information on 68,000 alumni who graduated between 2007 and 2011. The median first-year salary for 426 University of Texas-Austin history majors, for example, was $37,626 and rose to $49,490 for those who had been out of school five years. Their average student debt was $21,848.
"We're showing sort of career trajectory," says Stephanie Bond Huie, vice chancellor for strategic initiatives for the system.
Advocates for liberal arts education are particularly sensitive to the salary issue.
"The economic factor very frankly, tilts a lot of people's attention to the reality that, while there are many intangible benefits of a liberal arts education, there also have to be tangible ones," says St. Olaf president David Anderson.
St. Olaf's career center now offers a searchable database that shows where young alumni --- so far the classes of 2011 and 2012 -- landed after graduating. It's one of several new initiatives, including student trips over school breaks to network with alumni in major cities, a workshop for freshmen and a sophomore retreat on campus.
A $5.2 million endowment, created when the school received a $2.6 million gift that was matched by its governing board, covers most of the career center's annual operating budget -- $379,550 this year, up from $67,000 just 19 months ago. A search of history majors in 2011, for example, finds eight graduates furthering their education and 23 working in a range of jobs, including a full-time data analyst for a law firm, a camp counselor in Russia and part-time stock associate at a retail store. The school was able to track 92% of the graduating class for each year, but no salary information is reported because most alums didn't provide it, says spokesman Kari VanDerVeen.
Nationally, operating budgets for campus career centers have fluctuated but have remained low and essentially flat over the last several years, says Edwin Koc, director of research for the non-profit National Association of Colleges and Employers in Bethlehem, Pa. Its annual membership survey show that operating budgets for more than 850 members averaged $63,086 in 2012, a 16% drop from the previous year, then rose to $69,887 in 2013. Over those two years, overall operating budgets for career centers decreased about 6%.
Like St. Olaf, schools that do invest in career centers are looking to gifts for financial support. Over the last five years, Wake Forest has picked up more than $10 million toward its programming in the last five years, much of it contributed by parents and alumni, Chan says.
The University of Vermont spent $276,880, all from gifts, to renovate its career hub, which opened last fall in the student center, and this year bumped up its career services budget to more than $1.2 million, 27% above last year's. It has hired four more staff members, expanded job-related programming and created a slate of online courses about job prospects with titles like "Careers and English: What's Next?"
"They're definitely ramping up their services," says senior Corin Vallee, an English major who took the online course over winter. This semester, she has an internship in the public relations department at Green Mountain Coffee Roasters
After taking a similar course, University of Vermont philosophy major Michaela O'Flaherty, a sophomore, says she is no longer "absolutely terrified" about her career prospects.
"I don't think by any means a future employer will quiz me on my philosophical knowledge, but I do think that what philosophy offers is a set of transferable skills that will be extremely helpful in my life after college," she says. "And my parents agree with me that the most important thing I can do in terms of my career while in college is to work hard, make connections, and apply myself."
Copyright 2014 USATODAY.com
Read the original story: Colleges ramp up career guidance for students