Oregon State University, Cascades, is placing career-readiness competencies in the classroom and at the forefront of campus activities with its new initiative, Cascades Edge.
“All the people that I’ve worked with at career services, they’re always trying to figure out, ‘How can we get more students to come see us? … How do we engage more students?’” says Blair Garland, chief marketing officer and engagement officer at OSU Cascades. “This model flips it, and we bring career development directly to the student where they are.”
Paving the path: Very few students are using their career centers, but the benefits of career-preparation exercises are demonstrated across higher education. The National Association of Colleges and Employers’ 2022 Student Survey found most students who used their career center received more job offers compared to their peers who did not.
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Cengage Group’s 2022 Graduate Employability Report, similarly, found 39 percent of 2022 graduates felt underqualified for their role because they had some, but not all, of the skills listed in the job’s description. Graduates with traditional degrees were also less likely than those with certificates or other nondegrees to be confident in their education’s connection to job skills.
Students hold a lot of anxiety around changing major or being unsure of their career path, Garland says, which is often amplified by the high cost of tuition and the pressure to graduate in four or six years.
“I think a lot of folks in higher ed are afraid to let students talk about their careers early on because they think that students are too anxious or not ready. But in fact, they want a structured way to explore early so they can make sure they’re on the right path early on,” Garland explains.
Beyond placing career readiness in classrooms and everyday conversations, Andrew Ketsdever—whose title is interim vice president but who in practice is currently the head of OSU Cascades—hopes the initiative creates equity and equal access on campus.
“We know there are underrepresented students who don’t find the Career Development Center at greater rates than their peers,” Ketsdever says. “But there’s also differences between degrees around career development, and so we’re trying to level that field.”
Skills sharpening: Cascades Edge has three components: a general course for all incoming students to kick-start their thinking about careers, badging for career competencies and career development programming.
The class, which started as a pilot in fall 2022, helps students create an action plan and a mission statement to guide their academic career, Garland explains. Both the statement and plan can change as a student explores major and career opportunities, but as tools for students and advising personnel, the documents guide choices.
“Having a really clear view of the value of what you’re doing, why … what your goals are, and how they connect to your bigger personal and career outlooks [is] really important so that you’re committed early as a student,” says Dianna McGinnis, director of student success and career development.
The introductory class will look different depending on major, but key themes include transitioning into university life, getting familiar with Cascades Edge and learning how career development will progress.
Badges of pride: NACE established eight career-readiness competencies to benchmark a student’s understanding and skill set as they transition into the workforce. Cascades Edge uses those competencies—career and self-development, communication, critical thinking, equity and inclusion, leadership, professionalism, teamwork, and technology—with the addition of financial literacy.
The competencies are designated with a badge, which a student can add to their LinkedIn profile or résumé, illuminating learned skills for a future employer.
“It gives them an idea of connecting why what they’re learning is going to help them in their future, [with] not only career [but] personal development as well,” McGinnis explains.
In addition to teaching the competencies, Cascades Edge adds career-development opportunities to every term, like internships, a job shadow, a field trip, networking, a résumé workshop or career fair preparation, Garland adds.
Innovations in Experiential Learning
OSU Cascades additionally features an Innovation Co-Lab, a department emphasizing start-up culture and innovation in private and public sectors for its students, staff and community members and is building an Innovation District to complement.
Local partners, like Hydroflask, work alongside the university to establish experiential learning opportunities. A local credit union is establishing the curriculum for the financial literacy badge, as well.
Tools of the trade: OSU Cascades is running the initiative out of its career center, with support from the entire campus and its flagship campus’s Career Development Office in Corvallis, Ketsdever says. The university will increase its staff of career-development officers and academic advisers as well as data managers and software personnel to make the program run successfully.
McGinnis, in her role as a member of the academic affairs team, is responsible for developing the career and self-development competency area, as well as for partnering students with career-development tasks each term.
Cascades Edge is still in the launch stage, so the OSU Cascades team is learning as they go with the initiative.
“As a growing branch campus, we constantly say we’re building the airplane as we’re flying it,” Ketsdever jokes.
Most of the career-readiness services, like résumé writing and networking events, are commonplace in the university, but McGinnis anticipates an increase in student usage, services offered and tracking metrics.
While Cascades Edge will be an undercurrent in a student’s time at the institution, none of it will be a degree requirement or necessary for graduation, Ketsdever says.
New growth: As a start-up campus, OSU Cascades comes with an opportunity and the responsibility “to build the university of the future, whatever that looks like,” Ketsdever explains.
“We’re meant to do something here that is unique … being a land-grant, Research-1 university with that mission and building in a pretty special place in Bend, Oregon,” he adds.
The campus’s innovation is particularly daunting against the backdrop of the looming question of the value of higher education and the enrollment demographic cliff.
Garland says, “We realized that we need something new … that could become a distinctive element of the campus that would be so impactful for students that it was attractive enough to possibly impact enrollment and retention.”
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