NACE Logo NACE Center Logo
National Association of Colleges and Employers NACE Center for Career Development and Talent Acquisition®
mobile menu
  • Initiative Boosts Career Competitiveness of CUNY Grads

    November 14, 2018 | By NACE Staff

    Best Practices
    Career services professionals - CUNY.

    TAGS: best practices, program development, nace insights, career development

    Spotlight for Career Services Professionals

    Since 2014, the Central Office of Academic Affairs of the City University of New York (CUNY) has been developing and expanding programs that empower students to experience meaningful work and career exploration opportunities.

    The ultimate goal of this work is to build CUNY into an institution focused on academic excellence and career competitiveness. To help achieve this goal, CUNY developed its Career Success Initiative.

    “In early 2017, our former chancellor created a strategic framework that focused on the student-centered goals for the university system, including those around access, completion, and career success,” explains Angie Kamath, university dean for continuing education and work force development.

    “We considered how we think about remediation reform on the access front, how we think about momentum work on the completion front, and how we think about and prioritize post-secondary employment outcomes for our students. We formed our Career Success Initiative and layered on the aspects of career exploration, applied learning, and paid internships as the building blocks to have a successful post-graduation employment trajectory.”    

    Kamath, who operates out of CUNY’s Office of Academic Affairs, works closely with her colleagues in career services. She says one problem they’re facing is that CUNY has a greater than 2,000 students-to-1 career services staff member ratio.

    “The notion that the post-graduation employment outcomes and all of that reverse planning in terms of what has to happen with and for students is the work of career services is unreasonable and irresponsible,” she says.

    “No one is resourced for that. While determining the assets and resources that we have within academic affairs to move the needle on how well our students are informed and prepared, and have access to opportunities, we aligned academic affairs with student affairs and brought more resources and assets under the tent.”

    The unique position of the Central Office—which is responsible for CUNY programs such as athletics, career development, and student housing—has allowed programs to be offered across the university. Furthermore, the fundraising capability of the Central Office made the programs robust with wraparound services and support for students in their first professional experiences.

    “Our role in the Central Office is also to help with coordination with employers because we have 25 institutions [in our system], and we can't have 25 institutions going to the same employer,” Kamath says. “There is coordination that has to inherently happen within the employer community and we need access to resources. A lot of this is a resource game where we are working hard with both the public and private sectors to bring resources to our campuses. [Our Central Office] can do that effectively.”

    Kamath points out that the biggest asset to this initiative is the faculty. Kamath explains that CUNY had been focusing on its wage data—which extends back a decade—and data around how well its students are performing post-graduation to reach a level of focus and talk about economic mobility.

    “Those numbers speak to certain constituents, such as students and some leadership,” she notes. “However, the data didn’t speak to faculty. What spoke volumes to faculty were NACE’s career readiness competencies. When we showed the competencies to the faculty and said, ‘This is what we want to do more of, and this is what employers and leaders say our students need to be equipped with,’ faculty said, ‘Of course, we want that too.’ I was trying to sound the alarm by using data and numbers because I'm trained in data-driven decision-making, but that had little impact on the faculty.”

    Faculty buy-in is critical as the second phase of the Career Success Initiative shifts to the campus level. In early 2018, the CUNY Office of Continuing Education and Workforce Programs (CEWP) issued a request for proposals (RFP) to the 25 CUNY campuses to submit ideas for stronger implementation of programs designed to position CUNY students for early and sustained career success.

    Kamath says that this grant process has sparked experimentation, idea creation, and best practice development to improve the career outcomes of CUNY students. Key goals of the new strategy include:

    • Intentional employer engagement with a focus on varied sectors—This includes building university-wide capacity to organize students, employers, and faculty in professional development activities specifically for key sectors of the NYC economy; and creating a clear entry point to CUNY for employers that makes it easier for them to connect with relevant academic programs and well-prepared students wherever they are enrolled across CUNY campuses.
    • Increased hands-on learning for students—This goal addresses ensuring that CUNY students have developed and practiced foundational, transferrable career readiness skills; increasing the number of paid internship placements, full-time employment (or the equivalent) placements, contract/freelance work that leads to full-time work/wages, and students pursuing post-graduate education; and making it easier for all students across the university to find career coaching and preparation, and access opportunities relevant to their chosen career path.
    • Industry-informed academic programs and courses—This includes cultivating ongoing partnerships between employers and CUNY faculty or academic programs to enhance curricula, expand student skill sets to meet job market demand, and ultimately place students into internships and jobs.
    • System-wide infrastructure and assessment—This goal focuses on creating a data and evaluation system that is connected to existing systems and tracks experiential learning, post-graduate employment, and wage earnings; and securing sustainable public funding of the CUNY Career Success Initiative.

    In July 2018, CEWP awarded grants to nine CUNY colleges totaling $848,000. Grant recipients are using their funding to explore programs and interventions. As a condition of funding, the recipients formed a learning community consisting of five to seven staff members from each college to share best practices and learn from each other’s experiences. All respondents to the RFP that were not awarded funding also were invited to join the learning community meetings.

    “The learning community is a coalition of schools that are ready to take this on,” Kamath says. “It's not that the other schools aren't ambitious; they are being realistic about having the bandwidth to take on a change-management effort at this time. We fully hope that over the next two or three years, we will be able to get everyone focused on this, but, for now, we are working with those who felt that they could take on this challenge, work to realign infrastructure, and think differently about advising and connecting careers with academic momentum.”

    CUNY’s Office of Research, Evaluation, and Program Support (REPS) is working with the learning community to design a reporting and tracking framework to manage and understand the impact, replicability, and scalability of these programs.

    CEWP has retained industry and third-party career services experts to advise the group and address topics such as understanding and using labor market data, defining a minimum standard of career readiness, identifying new ways to partner with employers, and defining levels of employer engagement.

    Kamath points out that, in addition to receiving funding, learning community members will also have access to resources and opportunities through the Central Office. Those opportunities include participation in pilot programs, such as online career development platforms, in-person training, skill-building workshops, internships, and more.

    Learning community members will also be connected to employers to develop partnerships and talent pipeline relationships.

    “CEWP will provide individualized technical assistance to the colleges based on their unique needs and challenges,” Kamath says. “Through regular visits to the campuses, CEWP staff will maintain intimate knowledge of the various programs and connect college staff with the appropriate experts to maximize impact.”

    Kamath says that CUNY is trying to solve several problems through its Career Success Initiative. One of the biggest, quite literally, is tied to the institution’s size.

    “As a large urban institution with 25 colleges that make up the CUNY system, we need a clear front door and navigation system for employers,” she explains. “We’ve hung out our shingle to employers saying if they want local, diverse, home-grown talent, come work with us and we’ll make it easy for them. Sometimes career competitiveness is simply about being in the game.”

    So far, CUNY is close to achieving its early goals. While numbers are scarce at this early juncture, Kamath says Career Success Initiative organizers made it a goal to engage 10,000 students in direct student-facing programs in its first year. By the end of September, it had brought 9,200 students into the fold.

    “Our numbers show that students really want this exposure,” she says. “We are just getting started, but the results have been strong so far.”

  • PLI