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  • Special Report: The Impact of the Coronavirus Pandemic on Higher Education, College Recruiting, and New College Graduates

    May 01, 2020 | By NACE Staff

    Trends & Predictions

    TAGS: internships, school selection, journal, coronavirus

    NACE Journal, May 2020

    Message From Shawn

    When I applied to become the executive director of NACE, I looked forward to working with and for members to address their needs and strengthen our professional community. I never imagined that my first days would be focused on addressing the needs of members as they—along with the rest of the world—grappled with the personal and professional challenges presented by a pandemic.

    I have been amazed and awed at the willingness of members to help each other by sharing information. Through polls, through virtual events and presentations, and through the NACE Community, members have stepped forward—and keep stepping forward—to help all of us navigate this unprecedented experience. It is hard to find good in such a disruptive, and often deadly, experience, but it has shown us that we can count on each other—that #WeAreNACE is much more than a hashtag.

    This special section of the NACE Journal features some of the data and insights members have brought to the table. Obviously, as you read this, some of the data are already outdated. That’s okay. They provide us with a historical record of where we were at a point in time and provide us with context so that we can learn from this experience and apply those lessons going forward.


    Shawn VanDerziel

    Shawn VanDerziel
    NACE Executive Director

    NACE Quick Polls: Tracking the Response to the Coronavirus Pandemic

    In January, although there were murmurs of a deadly virus in China making its way around the world, employers and their college counterparts, looked forward to spring recruiting.
    NACE’s Job Outlook indicated that spring recruiting would be robust: More than 70 percent of employers taking part had firm or tentative plans in place to be on campus to recruit.
    Still, there was a steady trickle of information that suggested the coronavirus was both serious and pervasive, and people began asking what, if anything, they might need to do differently.

    On March 9, NACE launched a poll among its members to determine how the coronavirus might affect spring recruiting as well as summer internships. Initial results—posted on March 13 in the NACE Community and NACE website—suggested there was some concern and a recognition that things might have to change.

    More than one-quarter of schools, for example, had either decided to shift all classes online or were giving that option serious consideration. Still, less than 7 percent had cancelled the career fairs they had planned for the spring; however, as less than half of employers said they expected to carry out their plans to attend career fairs in the spring, this may have reflected a lag in communication between the groups. (As it turned out, the disconnect was short-lived and, ultimately, did not matter, as most states went into some form of lockdown by the end of March.)

    In addition, although the World Health Organization had declared the coronavirus a pandemic on March 11, initial poll results indicated that summer internships would proceed as planned, with more than 90 percent of employers expressing that intent.

    Within a week, plans had shifted, and by month’s end, the shifts were dramatic. Employer plans to be on campus to recruit largely fell apart, and far fewer organizations said their internships would proceed as originally planned. (See Figures 1 and 2.)

    Figure: 1

    Figure: 2

    April’s data reflect the recognition among participants that the effects of the pandemic would extend beyond spring. In fact, much of what had been unthinkable in March was top-of-mind by the end of April. Whereas 70 percent said they intended to conduct their internship programs as planned at the end of March, more than 80 percent of organizations reported some change to their internship program by the close of April. (See Figure 3.) Organizations also began taking stock of the offers they had extended for internships and for full-time positions. (See Figure 4.)

    Figure: 3

    Figure: 4

    For career services professionals, too, the shifts were stark: Nearly all reported they were providing services to students virtually and that all interaction with students was, in fact, virtual.
    As April settled in, people also began to think about and plan for an extended state of lockdown. Consequently, in looking ahead to fall 2020 recruiting, more than 10 percent of schools reported plans to conduct career fairs only virtually, and a similar percentage of their employer counterparts (8 percent) said they would only attend virtual fairs.

    NACE Quick Polls
    Beginning March 9, 2020, NACE launched a series of weekly polls to gather and feed back critical information to members to help them base decisions on real-time data and gain perspective on a fast-moving, ever-evolving situation. The polls allowed participants to update their responses so that the data reflected today’s reality, not yesterday’s. This also enabled members to see trends around key issues—such as, initially, travel restrictions and internship plans, and, as the lockdown continued, revoked offers, budget cuts, and hiring freezes.

    March poll: N=361 (employers), N=1,055 (career services). April poll: N= 439 (employers), N= 839 (career services). May 11 results: N=137 (employers), N=251 (career services).

    Evolving strategy, tactics, and uncertainty

    May’s polls—underway as of this writing—will no doubt further illustrate how university recruiting and career services are evolving their strategies as well as their tactics to meet the needs of the “new normal.”

    At this early juncture, core resources—current staffing levels and budget—are still largely intact, although significant portions of both institutions and organizations are unsure how those will shake out over time and with the start of a new fiscal year. Moreover, budget status is largely rendered moot in the short term for many schools: Nearly half of colleges have implemented a spending freeze; more than one-third have frozen hiring. Employers (18.3 percent) are more likely than their career services counterparts (10.4 percent) to report furloughed or laid off staff.

    Even without the full May data, however, it is obvious that both career services and university recruiting professionals anticipate that they will have to retool their operations in some way to address a fall recruiting season unlike any other. For example, nearly half of employer organizations expect to alter their target school list, shifting to a more regional focus or reducing the number of schools on the list, while another 22 percent are not decided about their list.

    Not surprisingly, along with the recognition that fall recruiting may be different this year comes a high degree of uncertainty about how different and how to manage those differences. Among employers responding to NACE’s initial poll in May, for example, nearly one-third have started planning for the 2020-21 academic year, but those plans haven’t been initiated. Nearly as many say they are still deciding about the coming year. Similarly, approximately one in four organizations expects to stick to its standard recruiting schedule; nearly as many, however, are uncertain and waiting to see how the situation unfolds. (See Figure 5.)

    Figure: 5

    The uncertainty repeats on the career services side: More than half report they have started to plan for 2020-21, but are still undecided about what those plans hold, driven, most likely by the fact that nearly two-thirds of institutions had not made a decision about their academic year as of early May. (See Figure 6.)

    Figure: 6

    Polling to capture trends and the new normal

    NACE expects to continue polling around the effects of the pandemic on recruiting, career development, and the job market for new college graduates through the summer. General information will be available on the NACE website; detailed results will be available to participating members.