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Career services in 'best practices' spotlight

Sept. 20, 2006

KALAMAZOO--A successful effort to better evaluate Western Michigan University's career development programs has received national recognition.

The June 9 issue of Spotlight Online, an e-mail newsletter published by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, featured an article on WMU's assessment strategy as the lead item in the newsletter's ongoing "Career Services Best Practices" series.

The article, "Shifting Focus to Achieve Desired Student Learning Outcomes at WMU," referenced the University's migration to an outcomes-based model of assessing student learning. It went on to describe how tailoring this model has benefited Career and Student Employment Services, an office in the Division of Student Affairs.

"A campuswide assessment committee developed guidelines for the model, and once the student affairs division adopted these guidelines, we applied them to our strategic planning and assessment practices," recounts Lynn Kelly-Albertson, executive director of CSES.

"Determining how to assess student learning beyond the classroom isn't always easy, but taking an outcomes-based approach has resulted in big dividends for us and our students. The new strategic assessment plan we created has led to numerous program improvements. Now, the improvements we've made are attracting the attention of other schools around the country."

CSES began getting noticed when WMU officials detailed its adaptation of the outcomes-based model during a presentation at North Carolina State University's Undergraduate Assessment Conference on University Assessment in April. The office is still fielding calls from university career specialists intrigued by the June best practices article.

"Before we shifted our assessment strategy, our offerings were clustered around the job-search process, and we were measuring things like how many resumes were referred, how many jobs were posted and how many students were seen," says Linda Ickes, CSES associate director.

"But measuring only production-oriented activities didn't really tell us how deeply students were engaging in learning and personal development. Knowing where our students gain employment is important, but we wanted to be held accountable for facilitating learning rather than for 'placing' students."

Under the new system, Ickes says staff members started asking themselves what they want to be accountable for as well as what they want WMU's students to know, do and experience. As a result, CSES is more focused than ever on involving students in self-assessment, career exploration, skill development, job searching, decision-making and career management.

"Evaluating our job performance based on that focus dictated that we adapt our approach and programming," Ickes says. "For instance, we added self-assessment instruments such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and Strong Occupational Interest Inventory, and strengthened career exploration by, among other things, better utilizing our online library and one-credit career exploration and development class."

Employing the new assessment model has also led CSES staff to identify "how" they want to deliver learning to students. The methods, termed values in the office's assessment plan, include technology, student engagement, curriculum integration and employer partnering.

"These values affect the teaching and learning methods we choose as well as how we assess our programs," Ickes says. "As an example, we've developed more occupation-specific programming and expanded our collaboration with student employees, student organizations, faculty and employers."

Additionally, CSES is now using several tools to measure learning and participation, including getting direct input from representative student groups; soliciting student-, alumni- and employer-reported evaluations and feedback; and tracking the number of students who upload documents as well as register for workshops, career fairs and related events through BroncoJOBS--WMU's career and student employment services Web site.

"We've strategically planned for learning-oriented services and programs," Ickes says. "So we're now measuring what we value instead of valuing what we measure."

For more information, contact Linda Ickes at linda.ickes@wmich.edu or (269) 387-2745.

Media contact: Jeanne Baron, (269) 387-8400, jeanne.baron@wmich.edu

WMU News
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