Research is formalized curiosity. It is poking and prying with a purpose.
– Zora Neale Hurston
As springtime ushers in campus visit season, colleges and universities can expect an influx of prospective students and families who are behaving as amateur ethnographers, seeking evidence that a college is what it says it is.
Sensory cues and atmospherics will strongly influence these visitors’ perceptions because they are on the lookout for visual and emotional signs that reinforce the set of institutional values and brand attributes a college is trying to project. In essence, campus visitors want to experience for themselves whether a college’s value proposition is believable.
A key indicator of value that people want to verify is a college’s commitment to the post-graduate success of its alumni. As the CIRP Freshman Survey has consistently shown since the economic recession, “to be able to get a better job” is students’ single most important reason for attending college, and “this college’s graduates get good jobs” is second only to “this college has a very good academic reputation” among their top reasons for selecting a particular college. Therefore, of particular importance today is communicating to students (and families, especially many first-generation ones) what career paths studying a particular major can lead to.
The career and advising center is an ideal stop during the campus visit for demonstrating evidence of a commitment to helping students and graduates succeed. Displaying a “wall of fame” in or near the career center can showcase some of the paths that graduates have successfully embarked upon, and in many cases, leverage the borrowed interest of alumni with strong brand equity and name recognition. Allowing tours of the career center itself can reveal the college’s investment in staffing, job and internship databases, interview rooms, and virtual interview technology. Tour guide scripts can incorporate job placement statistics, internship examples, and alumni stories. Departmental “display windows” in academic buildings that showcase graduates’ careers can also offer proof points of successful outcomes.
During these times of fiscal prudence and a quest for value, demonstrating results and sharing stories of accomplishment enhances an institution’s value proposition and can provide the necessary incentive to increase families’ willingness to financially sacrifice for what they believe is a more worthwhile investment.
Career advice columnist Penelope Trunk has predicted that “the head of the career center is going to be the god of academia” in adding value to a college diploma. And with news that career centers at institutions with enrollments of 10,000+ have cut back on many of the services they provide students, smaller private colleges and universities are especially well positioned to invest in responding to what the marketplace seeks during the value proposition calculation: answers about career outcomes and post-graduate success.
LinkedIn and the Council of Economic Advisors collaborated to identify the industries that grew and shrank the fastest during the Great Recession. Near the top of the “winners” list is the E-Learning industry, which expanded 15.9% from 2007 to 2011.
Only 60% of Americans think “colleges have a positive effect on the way things are going in the country.”
Source: Pew Research Center