Learning from a Career Course over 45 Years
By Robert Reardon and Janet Lenz
The development and implementation of career courses are popular topics in career services literature. Florida State University’s career course has been offered for over 45 consecutive years. It typically enrolls 375 students annually in 12 sections, links support from academic and student affairs, is theory-based and supported by research, and is managed and staffed by the Career Center. The course is jointly funded and sustained by FSU’s College of Education (COE) and the Career Center. We believe this career intervention can be replicated in other settings and describe here potential positive outcomes for practitioners, researchers, and institutions.
The FSU career planning course was initially offered by two management professors in 1972 and in 1973 the vice president for student affairs directed career services to assume responsibility for it. Numerous course revisions were undertaken in succeeding years, culminating in a fifth edition of the course text and instructor’s manual (Reardon, Lenz, Peterson, & Sampson, 2017).
The course outcomes include learning the importance of being purposefully responsible and active in the life/career planning process; understanding how personal characteristics, e.g., interests and skills, influence career development; becoming aware of the changing global economy and how it impacts individual and family career systems; and learning about and using job search strategies and skills.
Students completing all three course units and activities experience more than 50 career interventions. The course is team-taught by four instructors with training in career development. One team member serves as the instructor-of-record and one is identified as the primary contact for each student. During the first week of class, all students complete a performance contract in consultation with an instructor. Credits of 1-3 hours covering units I, II, and/or III are selected depending on student interests and instructor consent. A recent syllabus for our career course includes a detailed description and is posted at http://www.career.fsu.edu/students/plan-your-career/sds-3340-introduction-to-career-development.
Instructional costs include stipends for graduate students teaching the course and other expenses. Stipends typically range from $17,300 to $21,000 annually for 12 sections. The COE pays stipends and the Career Center makes “in-kind contributions” covering other costs, e.g., printing course handouts. The course generates $420,937 annually from student registrations with an additional $20 per student fee for the cost of class assessments (e.g. Self-Directed Search).
FSU researchers have published 12 articles by 23 authors in refereed journals describing successful course outcomes. Altogether, 25 studies have been conducted by 39 different researchers using data from our career course (Reardon & Lenz, 2018). We worked with the university institutional research board and created an archival research data source to document the course’s impact and contribute to studies of vocational behavior. Studies such as these document the efficacy of this career intervention and support researchers.
Career courses can have an impact on increasing student retention to graduation, a matter of interest to many institutions. Students undecided about their major and career can be “drop out” prone and may benefit from a career course intervention. Reardon, Melvin, McCain, Peterson, and Bowman (2015) used the registrar’s archival data to examine how engagement in our career course related to college graduation. The graduation rate in the career course cohort was higher than for the matched university cohort, despite the fact that course participants were lower on traditional indicators (e.g., GPA, SAT score) and represented a more diverse group.
Our course enrolled 386 students in the 2016-2017 academic year and generated 996 student credit hours (SCH). If we assume that a full-time equivalent (FTE) instructor is expected to generate 250 undergraduate student credit hours annually, then our career course could support the creation of 4.0 FTE instructor positions. Academic administrators may use SCH as the “coin of the realm” in higher education, a means of converting student course credits to the equivalent of salary dollars.
A university’s mission is generally described in terms of (a) teaching, (b) research, and (c) service. Our career course (a) provides instruction to over 350 students annually, and graduate students can obtain supervised teaching or internship credit as co-instructors; (b) creates opportunities for faculty, staff, and graduate students to engage in research related to the vocational behavior of college students with more than 25 articles published; and (c) serves the university community by helping students clarify their educational and employment goals and graduate in a timely fashion, linking academic and student affairs in a collaborative effort, and providing a career resource for at-risk students. We view a career course, such as the one described in this article, as a blueprint for institutionalizing a career intervention lasting for decades. A detailed report describing this career course intervention is available on our Tech Center website (Reardon & Lenz, 2018).
Reardon, R. C., & Lenz, J. L. (2018). Developing, managing, and evaluating a university career course for 45 years: A case study. (Technical Report No. 59). Tallahassee, FL: Center for the Study of Technology in Counseling and Career Development. Available at http://purl.flvc.org/fsu/fd/FSU_libsubv1_scholarship_submission_1519072870_7e150785
Reardon, R., Lenz, J., Peterson, G., & Sampson, J. (2017). Career development and planning: A comprehensive approach instructor’s guide (5th ed.). Dubuque, IA: Kendall-Hunt.
Reardon, R. C, Melvin, B., McCain, M-C., Peterson, G. W., & Bowman, J. (2015). An academic career course as a factor in college graduation. Journal of College Student Retention, 17(3), 336-350. doi:10.1177/1521025115575913
Robert Reardon, PhD, and Janet Lenz, PhD, are retired staff members of the Florida State University Career Center where they continue to pursue their academic and research interests. Both are recipients of NCDA’s Eminent Career Award. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.