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In the Spotlight: How Do We Assess All This Data?
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MPACE Spotlight - December 2015




Career development professionals around the nation must acknowledge that we live in an increasingly data-driven world. The general trend of educational leadership indicates that we are moving away from making decisions based on anecdotes, and towards making decisions based on statistical evidence. This paradigm shift was the cornerstone of the 2015 MPACE Pacific South Fall Regional Event at the University of California, Irvine (UCI), where the keynote speaker, Phil Gardner, the Director of the Collegiate Employment Research Institute at Michigan State University (MSU), presented on the latest recruiting trends both nationwide and regionally. Dr. Gardner’s major areas of research at MSU include transition from college to work and early workplace socialization; student engagement and competency development; the impact of first and second year of college on commitment to learning; and most notably, the topic around which this event revolves, labor market dynamics for college educated employees.


Last year, this event was hosted at the University of California, Riverside (UCR) and sponsored by San Diego State, UCR, and Cal Poly Pomona. Suzanne Helbig, current Pacific South Regional Director of MPACE and Director of the UCI Career Center stated that, “we wanted to continue having this event, because the data is incredibly relevant to professionals who are involved in MPACE - colleges and recruiters alike. It encourages thoughts about the future, and on how to take their organizations to the next level.” The buzz of activity and the palpable enthusiasm from the participants throughout the event was testimony to Dr. Helbig’s statement. Relevant recruiting and market trends at both the national and regional level inform how career development professionals interact with their students, and it was clear from the round-table discussions following the presentation that knowledge of these trends is invaluable to informing practice.


After the keynote presentation, while others were lining up for lunch, Dr. Gardner elaborated about his thoughts on data and assessment. While the drive for metrics grows stronger in the field of professional development - as evidenced, for example, by the increasing use of outcomes and destinations surveys - Dr. Gardner expressed concern for how they are being used by the career centers of colleges and universities. Gathering data has become ever simpler due to technologies that enable us to acquire it with a click of a button; however, the challenges associated with the subsequent interpretation of big data sets may compromise the validity of the outcomes. Dr. Gardner suggests that, “unless a [career] center can control the intersection of the variables involved in measuring outcomes, as well as consider lag and cumulative effects, it cannot accurately interpret big data sets.” Cumulative effects, for example, hamper a career center’s ability to separate its influence from the influence of a host of other factors, such as academics, clubs and organizations, and other departments across campus.


So if understanding the underlying dynamics that shape outcomes is critical to informing best practices in the field of professional development, what steps can career centers take to ensure the validity and reliability of its assessments? Dr. Gardner had a few suggestions. “Make it clear what you are trying to measure and why; keep it simple; remember the rules of statistics; and partner with people who understand how to collect and interpret data.”


You can find Recruiting Trends Briefs, available to the public and downloaded without charge, at the Collegiate Employment Research Institute (CERI) website at: http://www.ceri.msu.edu/recruiting-trends-report-briefs-2015-16/ 

This Spotlight article was compiled by Kathy Kim, M.A. She is the Internship Specialist at the CSU Dominguez Hills Career Center, and can be reached at kakim@csudh.edu or www.linkedin.com/in/katherinejinheekim
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