Career Services and the Non-Traditional Student
By John E. Butt
Adult students are one of the fastest growing student populations on today’s college campuses. This increase can be traced to a number of factors, including the downturn in the economy over the last few years, a desire to make a career change, or an adult suddenly finding time to return to school because of life changes (e.g., their children have grown, their work hours have been reduced, etc.). This influx of adult students is causing colleges and universities to reevaluate the way that they provide services to their student population, particularly as these services relate to career development. In the past, career services have been tailored toward traditional students, those that are typically in the 18-22 year old age range and who may have little to no work experience, are unfamiliar with designing cover letters and resumes, and may be at a different level developmentally than a student well upward of his or her thirties, forties, fifties, and so on.
In response to the unique needs of adult students, the University of Richmond’s School of Professional and Continuing Studies, a department that targets non-traditional students with a variety of credit and non-credit programs, has recently begun to implement a proactive advising strategy that provides unique career development programs to its adult student population. These opportunities have been guided by communication and feedback that the department has facilitated from current and former students in an effort to ensure that the needs and wants of the adult student population are being fully addressed. Based on the results of regularly administered surveys, the University of Richmond has begun to provide the following services to its non-traditional student population:
Advisors in the School of Professional and Continuing Studies provide both academic and career guidance to adult students. In a newly implemented strategy, students are asked to submit resumes along with their applications for admission. Advisors are able to review these and provide feedback to students on how to better structure and format their resumes, particularly to those students who are switching careers and may not understand how to highlight transferable skills.
Adult Student Career Fair
Most career fairs are designed with the traditional undergraduate student in mind and the organizations that attend expect to interact with this population. In 2012, the School of Professional and Continuing Studies successfully organized its first-ever adult student career fair, featuring over 40 organizations from a wide range of career fields, including education, banking, non-profit, and the Federal Government. Companies were informed in advance that students in attendance were non-traditional and that many possessed years of experience and maturity that organizations would find attractive.
Career Development Workshops and Forums
Many adult students have been in the workforce for a number of years and are familiar with the job search process. At the same time, the School of Professional and Continuing Studies has found that non-traditional students often need career advice, resume assistance, job interview tips, and other guidance related to the job search. In response to this, monthly forums are held where a speaker is invited to share with students how they can best prepare for a job search or how to increase their attractiveness to a current, or future, employer. In-depth Saturday sessions are also scheduled, where a career consultant meets with students and provides detailed recommendations on how to develop resumes, design cover letters, and improve interview skills.
Partnerships with the Career Development Center
The University of Richmond has a dynamic career center that possesses a wealth of resources for students. Many adult students are intimidated by what they perceive as a resource reserved for traditional-aged students. By partnering with the Career Development Center and maintaining open lines of communication, the School of Professional and Continuing Studies has been able to ensure that adult students have access to a resource library, job and internship search tools, and interview preparation assistance.
Job Announcements via Blackboard
The School of Professional and Continuing Studies enrolls all of its students into major-specific Blackboard groups. These groups are used by the advisors and program coordinators to transmit valuable information to students, including internship and job opportunities. The job opportunities are often passed along to the department though relationships that the advisors and program coordinators have formed with community members employed in the area of academic interest (human resources, for example).
These are the flagship programs that the University of Richmond’s School of Professional and Continuing Studies has implemented in an effort to better meet the needs of its non-traditional student population. While many of these initiatives are in their first iteration, the initial feedback from students has been overwhelmingly positive. In general, adult students seem to appreciate programs that are tailored to their needs and where they are valued for the maturity and experience that they possess. It can often be uncomfortable for a non-traditional student to be competing for services with a traditional-aged student, and the School of Professional and Continuing Studies strives to deliver a unique experience that effectively provides adult students with the resources they need to be successful in their current or future careers. By showing non-traditional students that they are valued through the provision of targeted career development programs, a university can fully meet the needs of this unique and fast-growing student population.
John Ephraim Butt, M.Ed., is an Academic/Career Advisor with the University of Richmond’s School of Professional and Continuing Studies. John is a native of Mobile, Alabama and has degrees from the University of South Alabama, the College of William and Mary, and is currently earning a Master’s of Human Resource Management from the University of Richmond. John has a passion for the college experience and has researched and presented on a number of topics, including homeschooled students in higher education, what to expect as a new academic advisor, and providing services to non-traditional students. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.