So, what do you want to be when you grow up? This seemingly innocuous question gets pretty weighty for college students as they make the decisions that could easily determine their life’s trajectory. And while some students are clear on their career choices, others need more information and guidance, such as which courses will best equip them with the skills employers value and whether their chosen profession will remain in demand.

A recent study by the Economic Policy Institute indicates that for young college graduates, the unemployment rate is 5.3 percent, while the underemployment rate is 11.1 percent in 2018. While that’s good news for around 80 percent of graduates, it still leaves one-fifth who are not finding suitable post-college employment. Perhaps even more alarming is a Gallup study that found “a crisis of confidence” among most students regarding their readiness to launch careers, specifically:

  • Only a third of students believe they will graduate with the skills and knowledge to be successful in the job market (34 percent) and in the workplace (36 percent).
  • Just half (53 percent) believe their major will lead to a good job.

At a time when higher education institutions are being held increasingly accountable for student outcomes and striving to prove their worth as an investment, the six-year completion rate for those who enrolled in 2011 was 56.9 percent. This number indicates that colleges and universities could be doing more to ensure that students see tangible value from their education in the form of a defined career path.

Improving advising to increase retention
While many higher ed institutions offer extensive career placement services, the reality is that these guidance services don’t always have access to current and complete workforce data. It’s constantly changing, and career counselors can’t be expected to know what will make someone successful in thousands of occupations. So how can today’s institutions, advisors, and students gain greater insight into workforce needs and make course corrections early enough in the student lifecycle to acquire needed skills?


Ideally, students and advisors would know what skills the student has accumulated and the extent to which those skills match up with employer expectations—at any point in the student lifecycle. Gaining insight into shifting workforce dynamics and leveraging up-to-date workforce data earlier in the student lifecycle can help realign a student’s education path as industry needs evolve.

These changes, made possible by access to a comprehensive body of workforce data, have the potential to dramatically increase the value of an institution’s career advisory services and boost the placement rate, while also improving the student retention rate. By alleviating the crisis in confidence that students are experiencing about their job prospects, more students would finish a degree program. Tying coursework to a lucrative first job is a powerful motivator to stay in school.

Obtaining and using the data
Workforce data is available from a variety of sources, including local, state, and federal government agencies, think tanks, and online job boards. But it’s not easily accessible in a way that a college career advisor or student can use it to make informed decisions. Also, the data alone can’t assess whether a student has the requisite skills for a chosen profession.

This is where developments in data analysis and artificial intelligence come in. Workforce-analytics tools can aggregate data from multiple sources and use sophisticated algorithms and machine learning to provide a clear pathway for students to their desired future.

Institutions can better serve and prepare students when they can determine early and often whether the skills students are gaining through their academic programs directly relate to workforce needs.

Building confidence in educational outcomes
Institutions have always had the career building tools, aptitude assessments, and knowledgeable counselors to set students on the path to career success. Measuring acquired skills and education against the evolving demands of the marketplace at any time in the student lifecycle give institutions another opportunity to help their students make sound career decisions.

As technology advances, designing and aligning courses and programs based on more timely and accurate insight into the marketplace will soon be table stakes, in order for institutions to build their reputations, increase retention and ensure that graduating students are more competitive in the marketplace.

About the Author:

Rob Sparks is chief marketing officer for Campus Management and is charged with expanding the global brand of the company and its solutions. He brings more than 20 years of higher education and technology expertise to the company.


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