Rhode Island College Career Services Training Focuses on Student Satisfaction 

A natinonally renowned career services director recently spoke to career development professionals from across the state about satisfying students, embracing professional responsibility, the importance of accountability and creating learning goals and outcomes.

R. Samuel “Sam” Ratcliffe, director of career services at the Virginia Military Institute and incoming president-elect for the National Association of Colleges and Employers, was the guest speaker at this year’s Career Services Assessment Training event at Rhode Island College.

More than 30 professionals representing Rhode Island College and eight other institutions of higher learning from Rhode Island and Massachusetts were in attendance to learn how to assess the impact of their work and plan strategically to improve in the future, said Linda Kent Davis, director of the Career Development Center.

Ratcliffe asked the career service professionals: “How many of you are doing more in your departments with less this year?” More than half of the people in the room raised their hands.

Despite cuts in resources, Ratcliffe said, “We must review, explain and deliver the best quality of services our departments can offer. Think about the top 10 services your college offers. Are they meeting needs? Are they satisfying students? Are they being utilized? Are they making an impact?”

In his lecture, titled “Assessment of Student Learning Outcomes in Career Services,” Ratcliffe highlighted the professional responsibility for all career service practitioners to make a difference in the lives of students and other key stakeholders – investors and audiences of the array of career service programs offered at their schools.

“Those who best understand career services in Rhode Island are sitting in this room,” said Ratcliffe, adding that they are the ones who best know the success rates of their programs and services, and they are most qualified to determine desired outcomes and develop measurement strategies for future events.

Stakeholders expect to see documentation of the success of these outcomes that will give career services departments proof of accountability for their contributions and the impacts they had.

Ratcliffe added that career assessment is “merely a strategy to accountability,” since it links professional practice and effectiveness through documentation.

He named three critical factors that career services professionals must use to demonstrate accountability to stakeholders: transparency (to explain efforts to outsiders) continuous improvement and evidence-based decision-making (to prove their successes).

Ratcliffe also discussed the importance of linking student learning goals with writing outcomes.

Professionals in career services must offer clear evidence about what programs and resources are being used by students and how satisfied they are to prove their accountability, said Ratcliffe.

Learning goals are general statements outlining what students should be able to know and do after coming into contact with career services, and what sorts of events, presentations, workshops and activities career services professionals will create to facilitate these objectives.

These should be important, meaningful and relate to the department’s mission, Ratcliffe said.

Similarly, student outcomes require a description of how individuals will grow after interacting with career services. Ratcliffe recommended using the SWiBAT (“students will be able to…”) format to write the most powerful and effective outcomes.

“An example of this is, ‘Our students will be able to present themselves effectively as candidates for employment,’ ” said Ratcliffe. “Students can have resumes, respond to interview questions, and do many more things to achieve this goal.”

To assess these goals and outcomes, career services must identify the major services, programs and activities to be supported (or cut), in addition to developing concrete processes for measuring and reporting student outcomes qualitatively and quantitatively.

Ratcliffe gave his audience some take-home messages, including: always strive to satisfy student and stakeholder needs, be flexible, seek assistance when needed and embrace your professional responsibility to be an expert in the field.

He asked, “If you walk away with nothing else today, ask yourselves, are we providing the best quality resources for our students at this juncture?”