Integrating Career Development into Academic Advising
By Condoa Parrent
Students make choices during college that influence their careers. Many students, however, report that their academic advisors do not integrate vocational topics into their advising discussions (Center for Postsecondary Research, 2018; Strada & Gallup, 2017). When academic advisors respond to surveys, they validate students’ self-reported experiences and acknowledge that they do not often address or assess career concerns during advising conversations (Troxel & Kyei-Blankson, 2020).
Omissions of career topics during academic advising are concerning for a number of reasons. For example, research shows some marginalized students express a desire for career information. For example, low-income students want to assess the financial return that they can anticipate after they earn their college degrees (Perna & Ruiz, 2016). Students who value collectivism want to know how they can use their degrees to advance the well-being of their communities (Anderson et al., 2012). When students perceive that their learning is valuable, relevant, and meaningful, they are more likely to persist toward their career goals (Lent, 2020).
Given the ethical necessity to respond to students’ career needs, Tarrant County Community College redesigned their advising philosophy, practices, and positions to prioritize and integrate career development into student conversations. Prior to the redesign, students were not assigned an advisor. Case management and follow-up were not consistent practices, causing student advising experiences to vary across each campus and program of the institution.
Leaders across individual campus sites identified the need to create a strategic, intentional advising experience for all students after the chancellor identified an enduring commitment to function as one institution that was student ready and focused on serving the community. A student experience team assessed the current state of advising, researched best practices, audited current procedures, and examined technology used for advising. Their primary goal was to develop a standardized advising experience that career advisors could deliver consistently across the various colleges of the institution. The team examined what structures were currently in place to ensure advising centers were welcoming spaces that empowered students to succeed in their academic journey (passing classes, not dropping classes, enrolling semester to semester, clear understanding on how their courses align to their career goals).
The team’s comprehensive analysis resulted in the Ideal 21st Century TCC Advising Model, which included the following:
- an innovative organizational structure and job descriptions that defined advisors’ roles, responsibilities, and expectations,
- a collection of policies, procedures, and programmatic systems to maximize student experiences,
- an advising program syllabus that outlined the institution’s philosophy, learning outcomes, advisor expectations, and student expectations — with the intention of fostering strategic and timely engagement,
- a report that evaluated future technology needs to support advising, engagement, and student success.
Senior leadership paired the new model with several innovative advising efforts that the institution is now adopting and implementing, including specialized support, professional training, caseload reconfiguration, and career services partnerships.
Specialized Support: Students have access to various staff members who provide tailored support based on the complexity of students’ concerns and their readiness for support (Sampson et al., 2004). Enrollment coaches work with seniors at the high schools, bringing the admissions, testing, advising, and registration services directly to them. Success coaches support first-time students, guiding them through the sometimes-daunting task of applying to college and navigating the onboarding process. Career advisors (formerly titled academic advisors) provide advising to their assigned students from entry to completion, providing pathway and career exploration support that is paired with proactive communication and case management. Senior career advisors develop retention strategies for students who are on suspension/dismissal and need to improve their academic standing, modify their vocational goals, and progress toward completion.
Professional Training: Advisors need ongoing education and development if they are to respond to students’ unique needs and the rapidly changing work world. The institution required advisors to be trained in career development when their titles changed from academic advisors to career advisors. Career advisors and senior career advisors must now earn a career service credential, specifically the NCDA Certified Career Services Provider (CCSP), within one year of employment of the college. Ongoing career-focused professional development is conducted each semester. To date, 150 staff members have earned the credential and another 50 are preparing to complete the career services exam during the summer term.
Career Advising Caseload Reconfiguration: Starting in Spring 2024, the institution will also begin to mandate check-in conversations with career advisors when students complete 15, 30, and 45 credits. The college will also implement a robust case management system for all credit bearing students that includes both appreciative and proactive career advising approaches. All currently enrolled students will be assigned a career advisor prior to registration. Career advisors will proactively contact students to share relevant information and offer support to their assigned students.
Career Pathways: The Guided Pathways approach establishes clear and concise roadmaps for students to assist them with connection, entry, progress, and completion of certificates or degrees (Johnstone, 2015). These roadmaps work to identify a clear set of courses that will allow the student to obtain a degree needed within the student’s career pathway. When asked why they are enrolling in college, most students do not name a college degree, but instead often reply they are enrolling to better support their families, for a better life, or to obtain a better job. Intentionally designed career advising allows the advisor and the student to focus on the end goal of the student.
Career Services Partnerships: To enable students to achieve their career aspirations, the newly formed career advising office also fostered collaborative relationships with the career service office. Career advisors routinely refer students to career services for resume reviews, networking leads, interviewing support, and internships. Faculty also offer discipline-specific mentoring during their teaching and co-curricular activities.
Students and staff have provided positive feedback during the adoption phase of these changes. As leaders look ahead to the coming year, they are excited about the possibility to close gaps in career and academic advising conversations. The institution will continuously evaluate these changes through focus groups, surveys, and student behaviors (e.g., change of major rates, persistence). Through strategic design of advising and partnerships with colleagues across campus, the institution is creating a career ecosystem that will foster career development and engagement.
Anderson, S. K., Peila-Shuster, J., & Aragon, A. (2012). Cross-cultural career counseling: Ethical issues to consider. Career Planning and Adult Development Journal, 28(1), 127–139.
Center for Postsecondary Research. (2018). College students’ readiness for work varies by their major and their use of career resources, national survey finds [Press release]. https://nsse.indiana.edu/research/annual-results/past-annual-results/nsse-annual-results-2018.html
Johnstone, R. (2015). Guided pathways demystified: Exploring ten commonly asked questions about implementing pathways. National Center for Inquiry & Improvement.
Lent, R. W. (2020). Career development and counseling: A social cognitive framework. In S. D. Brown & R. W. Lent (Eds.), Career development and counseling: Putting theory and research to work (3rd ed., pp. 129–164). Wiley.
Perna, L. W., & Ruiz, R. (2016). Reducing the stratification of college “choice.” Pell Institute. http://pellinstitute.org/indicators/downloads/dialogues-2016_essays_Perna_Ruiz.pdf
Sampson, J. P., Jr., Reardon, R. C., Peterson, G. W., & Lenz, J. G. (2004). Career counseling and services: A cognitive information processing approach. Brooks/Cole.
Strada, & Gallup. (2017). 2017 college student survey: A nationally representative survey of currently enrolled students. http://news.gallup.com/reports/225161/2017-strada-gallup-college-student-survey.aspx
Troxel, W. G., & Kyei-Blankson, L. (2020). The “typical” advising session: An exploration of consistency [Research Report]. NACADA Center for Research at Kansas State University. https://nacada.ksu.edu/Portals/0/Resources/Research%20Center/documents/RR201%20-%20Troxel%20and%20Kyei-Blankson%20-%20The%20Typical%20Advising%20Session_An%20Exploration%20of%20Consistency.pdf?ver=CPHmenPQ0FDxR1tB-P4dEg%3D%3D
Condoa Parrent serves as the Director of Student Success and Advising at Tarrant County College in Ft. Worth, TX. Dr. Parrent has over 30 years of experience in higher education, serving in various roles and is dedicated to student success. Dr. Parrent, a first-generation college student, entered higher education after receiving her GED at the age of 26 and is a firm believer that education changes lives as evident in her own. In addition to her role as a college administrator, she also teaches in the higher education graduate program at Purdue University Global since 2009. She can be reached at email@example.com