Delivering on Student Expectations with Career Pathways
With student debt rising across North America due to increased tuition fees and decreased public funding, modern learners are rightfully laser focused on the expected return on their investment in higher education. Failing to connect programs with career outcomes is one of the most significant drivers of an engagement gap that’s emerging between modern learners and higher education institutions.
Even though the majority of students enroll in bachelor’s degree programs to achieve career outcomes, 40% of bachelor’s degree holders are underemployed in their first job out of college. This gap also shows up in learners’ perceptions. Only 35% of students enrolled in four-year programs across the United States felt their institution does a good job at connecting their education to a career—and fewer than half of community college students (47%) feel the same way.
Learners very clearly connect the value of their education investment to career impact. At schools where students said they had access to resources and support that helped them find a good job, 78% of graduates agreed that it was worth taking out student loans.
On the other hand, at schools where students said they did not receive support toward achieving career objective, only 9% of graduates felt it was worth taking out loans to pay for their education.
It’s imperative for colleges and universities to not only help learners achieve their academic goals and career aspirations; they also need to make it easier for learners to choose the program that will best fulfill those aspirations.
Making Career Data Available Can Be a Massive Challenge for Higher Ed
For many colleges and universities, the first step to addressing this gap is by helping students understand the potential career directions a program can take them right from the start.
“It's important for a student to understand where a degree program can take them, but at times it's hard for our students to make the connections between the degree programs and then the career that it leads to,” said Melony Martinez, Director of Marketing and Public Relations at National Park College.
However, collecting, analyzing and sharing this data—and ensuring this accuracy—has historically been a manual, challenging and time-consuming process.
“We've tried on our own to cobble together data to make degree searching easier, by adding labor statistics to program pages to give students an idea of what kind of salary they might earn or what kind of job outlooks there are for particular career areas,” Martinez added. “It's just very tedious work and it's hard to keep up with it. We've been doing it all manually on our team.”
According to Martinez, National Park College tried to make this data available to students by having a developer manually comb through Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data to share. This data wasn’t tied to specific Classification of Instructional Programs (CIP) Codes, which meant the team at National Park needed to internally determine whether there was a fit between particular career paths and particular programs.
“Our developer would spend days digging through Bureau of Labor Statistics data,” Martinez recalled.
Chris Young, Assistant Director for Web and Digital Marketing at the University of Central Missouri, said he and his team would have been unable to make labor market and career pathway data available to prospective and current students before Modern Campus Pathways.
According to Young, simply getting the same data to apply to all 200 programs offered by UCMO, cleaning it and displaying it in a way that makes sense to students was not feasible.
“We found that it would take an impractical amount of time,” he said. “To gather this kind of data manually just would not be practical.”
What’s worse, according to Young: even if the college did endeavor to manually collect career pathway data for each of its programs, by the time the data went live on the website they would likely need to re-do their analysis.
“By the time we’ve collected all of that data, it’s likely already outdated,” he said. “Outdated or wrong information is worse than missing information.”
Leveraging the Modern Campus Platform to Transform Student Career Pathways
For both UCMO and National Park College, Modern Campus Pathways presents an exciting opportunity to deliver critical insights to students without taxing staff or running the risk of presenting outdated or irrelevant data.
Modern Campus Pathways allows higher education institutions to help students quickly and easily understand the career outcomes driven by courses and programs—including certificates and degrees. With Pathways, colleges and universities can improve the personalization of their websites by giving students real-time career and program data to help inform their enrollment decisions.
Pathways software uses a combination of BLS data, CIP codes and geographic location to automatically feed highly personalized and relevant data to program and course landing pages. Modern Campus customers can also take advantage of a Career and Program Explorer, which leverages superpowered search to allow students to browse programs by career title, and can also facilitate program comparisons.
“An 18-year-old choosing between different institutions will not necessarily look at a program and immediately understand the career paths the program opens up. They're possibly looking at dozens of institutions and trying to find one that fits,” said Young. “If the website, the center of the university's marketing efforts, doesn't clearly identify the benefits associated with a given course or program, will the prospective student value that program as highly as the next university’s program, where the website clearly ties all those pieces together in a compelling story?”
Modern Campus Pathways is going to help us meet student expectations in a number of ways, through the Job Outlook data generated from the Bureau of Labor statistics, and through the degree search and program search offerings students can access.
According to Young, Modern Campus Pathways will help students see the career potential of programs before they ever enroll, which is shown to positively impact retention and graduation rates as well.
“You start with making that connection between education and career before they've ever even arrived,” he said. “The relationship kicks off by us showing the student that it’s not just about what we’re going to teach them, but by helping them see the value in what they’ll take away from their experience.”
According to Martinez at National Park College, making accurate career data available is essential to meeting learners’ expectations.
“If a student comes to your site and they're looking to explore degree paths or career opportunities, and they're not able to find that, then you failed,” she said. “Modern Campus Pathways is going to help us meet student expectations in a number of ways, through the Job Outlook data generated from the Bureau of Labor statistics, and through the degree search and program search offerings students can access.”
At the end of the day, according to Martinez, leveraging Modern Campus Pathways to make career outcomes more visible to students is essential to delivering on the student-centric mission of the modern higher education institution.
“Every decision we make, every dollar we spend, every hour of effort we put into our jobs are all geared towards helping our students be more successful. We can't do that if we're not funneling them into the degree programs that are leading to successful careers where they can go and make a difference for their families,” she said.
“If they're not able to find that on our website, they're not able to explore and apply and enroll, then they can't get to the end goal, which is graduation and a job, she added. “I'm appreciative to the Modern Campus team for keeping their eyes on the future and just making these tools available to us.”
Modern Campus Pathways is available to Modern Campus customers regardless of whether they use Destiny One, the leading solution to manage the business of non-traditional higher education, or Omni CMS, the leading CMS purpose-built for higher education.
Contact us to find out how to make Pathways part of your digital student engagement toolkit.
Last updated: May 20, 2021