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Interpreter Needed.

I am willing to bet that, if you ate lunch at a table next to a group of faculty talking to your president, you would hear words foreign to your ears: engaged scholarship, thematic areas, critical inquiry, the academy, transdisciplinary productivity. Similarly, some of them might be equally puzzled by a career services practitioner’s language – MBTI, career management software, career cluster, first destination surveys.

We all speak different languages and that is a problem. Because we work for our institutions and not the other way around, it’s our problem.

What does this language barrier have to do with assessment? Well, if a career services office is creating a mission, developing programming and building assessment and is not only unaware of what is important to their institution but also neglects to connect to the core institutional language, that institution may someday think we are not important.

The NACE Professional Standards for Colleges and University Career Services recognizes the importance of institutional voice by stating: The organization and management of career services, including its place within the institution, must support the mission of the institution.[1]

I agree, but so many institutional missions are somewhat vague and brief. I believe we all need to connect our mission, and our goals, to the institution’s strategic priorities.

I want all of you to take a few moments and follow these instructions:

  1. Use your institution’s website, or use Google, to find your college’s or university’s strategic priorities. Other keywords for your search may include institutional goals, strategic goals or strategic plan.
  2. Copy the goals into a Word document.
  3. Highlight any language that you could use to describe the work you and your staff do in your office. If you wish, bring this segment of the exercise to a staff meeting for everyone to participate.

For example, a quick google search for the University of Connecticut’s strategic plan provided me with the following language:

The Strategic Plan designates seven broadly defined goals:

  • Promote student learning 
  • Increase persistence, satisfaction and success rates for students
  • Prepare students for productive lives as professionals and citizens and support economic development
  • Enhance and sustain faculty and staff satisfaction and success
  • Promote global awareness and respect for diversity
  • Gain financial support necessary for a highly regarded public university
  • Initiate and sustain environmentally sound capital projects
  • Students as professionals and citizens.

10.21book-highlighterI have highlighted the language that I felt most Career Services staff would feel reflects a part of their work. Most of us should care about student learning, success rates, productive lives as professionals and our students’ impact on economic development, as well as their understanding of diversity and global issues.

  1. Now, look at your office’s mission and goals and compare it to your list of highlighted language from your institution’s strategic plan. Do the words you have highlighted also appear in your own office’s mission and goals? If not, as Tim Gunn would say on Project Runway, “Make it happen.” Add this language to your mission and goals and encourage your staff to use this language in annual reports, student materials and resources, counseling appointments and workshops.

Once you have done that, you have aligned your mission to institutional goals and you have integrated what the institution, and your president, cares about, into your work.

That’s a smart thing to do.

Carol Crosby is Assistant Director in Career Services at Bridgewater State University (BSU) in Bridgewater, MA. Her work in higher education has spanned 20 years and she has worked in career services offices for 12 years. She has a M.S. in College Student Personnel from the University of Rhode Island and has attended the HERS Institute at Wellesley College, NACE’s Management Leadership Institute, and the Fulbright International Education Administrators Program in Germany. She has been a member of BSU’s Student Affairs Assessment Committee and has participated on the program review team for accreditation for her office. She presented her office’s approach to assessment as it relates to students’ skill development at NACE’s 2015 Annual Conference in Anaheim, California.

[1] National Association for Colleges and Employers, (2014). Professional Standards for College and University Career Services, 12. Retrieved from http://www.naceweb.org/

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