By Peter Dietsche

Universities and colleges with an “impressive” career service model evaluate their services, measure outcomes, proactively deliver services and collaborate with campus stakeholders

A new CERIC research study has sought to establish the importance that publicly funded universities and colleges place on the provision of career development services and to highlight particularly impressive models of career service provision across the country.

These questions were answered by PSE Information Systems with a mixed-methods research design consisting of: i) an online survey targeting selected career services staff in all Canadian English- and French-language colleges and universities, ii) a content analysis of all college and university career services websites, and iii) targeted in-depth on-site interviews with career services staff at those institutions identified as having an “impressive” model of service. The findings are summarized in two reports, Insight into Canadian Post-Secondary Career Service Models and Insight into Impressive Practices in Career Services: A Reference Guide.

Designing an Impressive Model Scale

The identification of career service models in Canadian post-secondary education (PSE) was achieved with an analysis of the survey data to identify patterns of service structure and delivery. The analysis produced two types of models, institutions with “criterion-specific” models and those with “impressive” models.
Criterion-specific models were identified based on structural characteristics shared by a subset of institutions. Five models were identified based on:

  • Use of student assistants
  • Co-location of career services with other student services
  • Providing services to prospective students
  • Career services funded via student fees
  • Binary structure characteristic of Quebec CEGEPs and universities

Identifying institutions with impressive models of career services began with input from practitioners via the online survey. Respondents were asked to rate the utility of 18 metrics that might characterize an impressive model.

The top seven metrics – those endorsed by two-thirds or more of respondents as being “very useful” – were selected as the characteristics of institutions with impressive career service models. The top seven metrics were:

  1. Services are evaluated
  2. Student satisfaction measures are used to improve services
  3. Outcomes for students and other clients are measured
  4. Student use statistics for face-to-face services are collected
  5. Career-focused curriculum is embedded in programs
  6. Practices that promote student-faculty dialogue on career topics are present
  7. Degree of collaboration with campus stakeholders

An Impressive Model Scale Score was then computed for each institution using institutional responses to questionnaire items aligned with each of the seven metrics. This resulted in a total of 43 institutions with an Impressive Model Scale Score. Of these institutions, 24 scored above the scale mean and seven had a score more than one standard deviation above the mean. The latter group was considered to be significantly different from others in the sample and judged to exemplify an impressive model.

In a total of 43 institutions with an Impressive Model Scale Score, the seven institutions with the highest scores are: Wilfrid Laurier University; Queen’s University; Simon Fraser University; University of Toronto (Mississauga); Mount Royal University; Fanshawe College; Nova Scotia Community College.

The seven metrics listed above were collapsed to four key themes. The results show that, overall, career services practitioners in Canadian colleges and universities characterized institutions with an “impressive model” of career service delivery as being those that:

  1. Evaluate services regularly
  2. Measure service outcomes
  3. Are proactive in service delivery
  4. Collaborate with campus stakeholders

Achieving an impressive model

To understand the development and implementation of an impressive model in greater detail, focus groups were held with career services staff at the seven top-scoring institutions. A thematic analysis of the conversations revealed significant commonality across the institutions. Strategies used to achieve an impressive model focused on developing relationships and building partnerships with campus stakeholders, faculty members in particular.

Emphasis was placed on being proactive with campus groups by attending stakeholder meetings, for example, to highlight services and opportunities for collaboration. Co-location of career services with other student services departments was also a shared attribute of the impressive model and was cited as facilitating partnership development. Collaborating on programming and, most importantly, measuring service outcomes was regarded as an opportunity to be responsive and meet the needs of campus groups. Doing so would allow career services staff to demonstrate their impact and the value of their department. The result was heightened understanding of and support for career services.

Another key component of the impressive model was the strategic plan. At the department level, developing a strategic plan and ensuring the buy-in of all staff was cited as a pre-requisite for creating an effective career services department. If the related discussions, debates and policy planning could reach a consensus there was a greater likelihood that all staff would be “pulling in the same direction” in order to achieve departmental goals and objectives.

The insight gained into policy and practice via interviews with career services staff in high-performing institutions expanded on the characteristics of an impressive model of career services in Canadian colleges and universities presented above. The findings showed that staff in these institutions were intentional in using specific tactics that were effective in building institutional recognition of and commitment to their career services department.

Institutional commitment

Measures of institutional commitment to career development were examined such as staffing levels, budget and space allocation. Survey respondents were also asked to rate the commitment of their senior administration to student career development. The results show that senior staff at institutions with an impressive model were more committed to career development than those at institutions that did not have an impressive model. In the former case, 86% said their administration was “quite” or “very” committed to student career development, while in the latter case it was 45%.

As a supplement to the online survey, a content analysis was conducted of the career services websites for 207 Canadian colleges and universities located in 10 provinces and three territories. These data provide an additional estimate of institutional commitment to career services.

If post-secondary institutions wish to promote the career development of their students, being able to easily locate career services on the institution’s website is critical. A more objective measure used to assess the prominence of and commitment to career services was the number of clicks a student would need to arrive at the website.

Accordingly, the average number of clicks required to access the career services website from an institution’s home page was calculated for all institutions. For the college sector, the mean number of clicks nationally was 2.28 and for the university sector it was 2.1. The fact that, on average, approximately only two clicks are required to access career services on institutional websites suggests they are prominent, easy to find and that, by this measure, Canadian post-secondary institutions are committed to student career development.

The full reports can be accessed on CERIC’s website at


Peter Dietsche, PhD, is Emeritus William Davis Chair in Community College Leadership at Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto and the President of PSE Information Systems. For over three decades, his research has focused on the impact of policy and practice on student educational outcomes in Canadian and US colleges.

Free Webinar Series: “Impressive” Post-Secondary Career Service Models
CERIC is offering a free webinar series: “Impressive” Post-Secondary Career Service Models: What Have We Learned? from November 13 to 17 (Monday to Friday) presented by Dr Peter Dietsche and a group of career service leaders across Canada. This dynamic and highly interactive webinar series will be of interest to career services leadership and colleagues aspiring to leadership positions, as well as university and college senior administrators who wish to ensure high-quality and relevant career services.