Career Centers and Needs Assessments: Getting the Information You Need to Increase Your Success

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<ul><li><p>Journal of Career Development, Vol. 27, No. 3, 2001</p><p>Career Centers and Needs Assessments:Getting the Information You Needto Increase Your Success</p><p>Marie S. HammondUniversity of MissouriColumbia</p><p>Career Centers are experiencing increasing demands to justify the cost oftheir services, document the effectiveness of their services, increase their useof technology, and provide a broader range of services. Given the limited per-sonnel and funding associated with most Career Centers, and it can seem likean overwhelming set of demands to respond to. This article explores the useof the needs assessment as a tool to provide evidence of effectiveness, justifycosts, and make effective decisions about the services they provide. This arti-cle will discuss the benefits of conducting a needs assessment, the process ofdeveloping and implementing a needs assessment using an needs assessmentproject conducted at a small, mid-western University.</p><p>KEY WORDS: Needs Assessment; Career Centers; outcome evaluation; program eval-uation; survey questionnaires; continuous quality improvement.</p><p>Introduction</p><p>Fewer students, higher employment levels, and rising costs for post-secondary education have fueled increasing concern among collegeand university administrators regarding the costs associated with var-</p><p>Address correspondence to Marie S. Hammond, now at Career Services, 17 HolmesStudent Center, The University of Tulsa, 600 South College Avenue, Tulsa, OK 74104;e-mail: marie-hammond@utulsa.edu.</p><p>187</p><p>0894-8453/01/0300-0187$19.50/0 2001 Human Sciences Press, Inc.</p></li><li><p>188 Journal of Career Development</p><p>ious services offered by the institution. Lack of familiarity with thebenefits provided to the college or university provided by the CareerCenter can make the Career Center a target for budget freezes andreductions. In addition, pressures to become more like business, ad-ministrative demands for accountability, and a variety of quality im-provement programs can also put pressure on Career Centers to iden-tify the value-added by their efforts (Schulz, 1995; Bezanson, 1995).</p><p>Demonstrating the value added to the University or college settingby Career Centers can be perceived a difficult and time-consumingtask. Traditionally, this has been accomplished through the reportingof such numbers as the total recruiters on campus for interviewing,total students participating in recruiting, and the number of studentsreceiving/accepting offers of employment. While this information pro-vides some data to enable the staff to make certain decisions, the com-plexity of tasks required of Career Centers makes this informationinsufficient for present-day decision makers.</p><p>The value of the Career Center lies in its two-fold mission: (1) toassist students in making effective decisions about their major andtheir career path; and (2) to assist students in obtaining appropriateemployment/volunteer activities to enhance their movement towardstheir career goal. From this perspective, more of the activity encom-passed under the Career Center becomes valuable in demonstratingthe value added by the Center. It still remains difficult to documentthis value because it is less clearly identifiable as change. One wayto obtain this needed information is through a needs assessment(Heinzen and Rakes, 1995).</p><p>The words Needs Assessment often strike fear in the hearts ofprofessionals. They envision a huge, overwhelming project that re-quires significant effort and statistical analysis. Often, resulting ininformation that is not seen as helpful. However, a Needs Assess-ment is just a toola flexible tool designed to obtain informationfrom a population (Altschuld and Witkin, 1999). This article will dis-cuss the basics of Needs Assessment projects and a real-world needsassessment project in order to assist you in understanding the utilityof this tool. The article is arranged to allow you to see the flow of aneeds assessment project through the three basic steps to completion.The goal is to increase your knowledge of and comfort with needs as-sessment. In order to achieve this goal, we will focus on an overviewthe Needs Assessment process, the process of conducting a needs as-sessment, and finally, review and discuss an actual needs assessmentproject.</p></li><li><p>Marie S. Hammond 189</p><p>Table 1Overview of the Need Assessment Project</p><p>Develop an assessment planidentify goals, target population,information sources, methodology</p><p>Implementationcarry out your assessment plan, analyze/synthesize the data</p><p>Utilizationmake decisions, develop plans, make changes basedupon results</p><p>Overview of the Needs Assessment Process</p><p>The Needs Assessment Process entails three basic steps: (1) plan-ning your Needs Assessment Project, (2) gathering and analyzing thedata, and 3) doing something with the results (see Table 1, Haile,1993). The critical piece to the success of a needs assessment projectis clearly identifying what you want from the needs assessment proj-ect and then asking the questions that will provide this information.</p><p>To develop a needs assessment plan, you identify the goalswhatis it that you want to know or understand better? Is it the studentsexperiences of the center, their understanding of the placement pro-cess, or facultys awareness of how the Career Center can assist them?This helps you to identify the target population(s) and potential infor-mation sources. Your method for gathering information is affected bywho and how large your target population is.</p><p>To implement your plan, you would select the method for gatheringinformation, distribute and collect your data, enter your data, analyzeand synthesize your data. The last phaseutilizationoccurs whenyou make decisions about changes to make, evaluate ways to imple-ment the changes and implement those changes. Phase 3 continuesthrough the evaluation of the changes you implemented. This stepenables you to evaluate the effectiveness of the changes, as well as ofyour needs assessment project.</p><p>Phase I: Planning Your Needs Assessment Project (Table 2)</p><p>In Phase I the critical element is to define your goals. It is importantto clarify the purposes of the needs assessmentthe clearer these are,the easier it will be to implement and analyze the project (McClelland,</p></li><li><p>190 Journal of Career Development</p><p>Table 2Phase I: Assessment Plan</p><p>Goal(s)why should we spend the effort?What benefits do we expect to see from this project?What information do we need?Information sourcesare there other ways to obtain the information</p><p>we seek?Who is the best source for the information we need?</p><p>1992). Once you understand what you need/want from this project, itis time to see if the information is available from another source. Forexample, does Student Services query students about their careerplans, if so, does this information provide the answers to the questionsyou have asked. If you find that you can obtain the information else-where, the need for a needs assessments stops: you have the informa-tion to answer your questions. If there are insufficient sources of infor-mation to answer your questions, you can continue on to develop theneeds assessment (Cline and Seibert, 1993). Who is the best source toprovide the information you are seeking? Options include such groupsas students, faculty, advisors, administrative staff, residence hallsstaff, alumnae, and employers. These are all stakeholders in your Ca-reer Centerespecially the placement function. Also considerwhether it will be most effective and efficient to ask the recipients ofyour services directly (students) or someone with knowledge of theserecipients (faculty, staff, parents, etc.).</p><p>Phase I: Example Project</p><p>Changes in personnel, goals, and structure can greatly affect youroffices functioning, as it did in our real-world example. A needs as-sessment becomes a valuable tool to identify new directions or oppor-tunities. It is also a method for establishing a baseline to measurechange. The example presented in this article is an actual needs as-sessment project implemented by a Career Center from a medium-sized University in the Midwestern U.S. The Career Center at thisUniversity serves only undergraduate students (N = 2,924), and grad-uate students (N = 704) in graduate programs other than law. DuringSummer/Fall 1999, this office experienced a change in approximatelyhalf of the staff, including the transfer of the psychosocial career coun-</p></li><li><p>Marie S. Hammond 191</p><p>seling component from the on-campus Counseling Center to the Ca-reer Services office. The relatively recent arrival of a new Vice Presi-dent for the student services area added to the change, as the CareerCenter staff were given the challenge of creating a world class careercenter." Thus, changes in staff, mission, and structure converged tosuggest the need to measure the current situation. This baseline mea-sure would enable us to (1) monitor the changes, (2) evaluate the effec-tiveness of programmatic changes, and (3) monitor progress towardsmeeting the challenges.</p><p>These changes suggested that, in addition to obtaining informationfrom our students about their view of the office, it would be importantto expand students understanding of the assistance and informationprovided by Career Services. Information desired included methodsfor effective dissemination of information on Career Services activi-ties, types of services desired by students, students preferred methodsfor obtaining career-related information (workshops, groups, orga-nized courses), and topics of interest for workshops and library hold-ings. It was also important for the office to get a feel for the studentsutilization versus their perception of need for various services. Demo-graphic information, but no personally identifying information, wasincluded in order to enable the office to conduct advanced analysis ofthe responses.</p><p>Having identified the two main goals of the survey and the generaltopics, it became possible to identify survey targets. Students, ofcourse, are the initial focus of this survey, but because our goal wasto understand the students attitudes and awareness as clearly as pos-sible, faculty and staff were also viewed as potential sources for feed-back, but to focus first on the students. The decision to survey theentire undergraduate population (N = 2,924) was based upon threefactors: (1) the lack of information on student perceptions of the office,(2) the goal of educating students to the services provided, and (3) theestablishment of a baseline for subsequent evaluations.</p><p>Phase II: Designing your Needs Assessment (Table 3)</p><p>Once you identify the information needed and your target audience,you can move into the design phase. At this point you need to makedecisions regarding sample size and format of the assessment. A thor-ough review of the impact of these two components is beyond the scopeof this article, but can be obtained from articles and texts, such as</p></li><li><p>192 Journal of Career Development</p><p>Table 3Phase II: Assessment</p><p>What is the best way to obtain the information?Design your plan for obtaining the information (depends upon</p><p>method)Develop instrumentation, forms, etc.Plan data analysis methods, develop databases, etc.Disseminate, follow-up, and collect dataEnter and edit dataAnalyze and synthesize data</p><p>those included in the references. Basically, you need to consider thetime and effort involvedthe greater the number of individuals sur-veyed, the more time involved; the more intensive the method, themore time involved. For example, telephone interviews of an entirestudent body would involve significant time and effort on the part ofthe staff related to conducting the calls and necessary call-backs.However, the return rate is highyou can obtain data from a largepercentage of your target population. Whatever your sample size andmethod, your goal is to maximize the response rate (a minimum of35% of your target population) and minimize the amount of staff timeinvolved.</p><p>Typical methods used in conducting needs assessments include sur-veys (paper-and-pencil, mail, phone, and web-based), post-hoc reviewsof archived data, and focus groups. If your purpose is simply to obtaininformation on a specific topic, you may want to use a sample fromyour target population. Conducting a needs assessment on a smallergroup enables you to use more personal methods (phone surveys andfocus groups), which tends to increase the return rate. The larger thegroup, the greater the need to consider the amount of time involvedversus the rate of return. Thus, the larger the sample, the more youare restricted to methods such as reviews of archived data and paper-and-pencil, mail, or web-based surveys. Examples of target popula-tions include captured audiences (required course), mail, focus groups,phone or in-person interviews, or web forms. The method of distribu-tion also needs to be considered. If you utilize telephone interviews,you have one option for distributionthe telephone call. However, ifyou use paper-and-pencil surveys, you must decide the most effectivemethod for distributing and collecting them. This process is eased if</p></li><li><p>Marie S. Hammond 193</p><p>you have courses or meetings which require the attendance of largenumbers of students, such as a Freshman Seminar, Senior Collo-quium, or Recital Class. This method may still require a significantamount of time and effort from your staff.</p><p>Following the distribution and gathering of the data, in whateverform it takes, the project will shift into the analysis phase. Data anal-ysis can be as simple or complex as your statistical skills allow. Gener-ally though, the simplerthe better. Much information can be gainedusing frequency counts, histograms, means, medians, and modes. Ifyou choose to become more complex, you can analyze your data by thevarious demographic categoriesgender, college status, ethnicity, etc.While it is possible to analyze your data using sophisticated data anal-ysis programs, you can also use your favorite spreadsheet program.These programs can hold your data, analyze your data, as well asprepare necessary charts, graphs, and tables.</p><p>Phase II: Example Project</p><p>In selecting our distribution methods, we first established severalcriteria: (1) minimize the time involved in distribution and collection,(2) minimize the involvement and/or disruption caused to college staffor class time, and (3) maximize the return rate. A mail survey wouldmost likely produce a low return rate, since we were moving towardsthe end of the semester and course demands were increasing. So, welooked for opportunities to meet with large groups of students. Thiswas possible for the Freshmen in each college, as all colleges have arequired Freshman Seminar course. Similar opportunities with upperclassmen were fewer and were less likely to permit us to obtain surveydata from all of a given group. Give this difficulty, we attempted toutilize the advising process to facilitate contact with upper classmen,based upon feedback that the majority of upperclassmen came in foradvising prior to registering in each of the three...</p></li></ul>

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