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Career centers at schools with largely affluent student bodies may see few young adults walk through their doors because people from middle- and upper-income backgrounds likely have family members and friends whom they can consult about employment opportunities instead. If a young man has a doctor or a writer in his family, for example, he can talk with that relative and even shadow her on the job to figure out if that’s the route he’d like to take. If it is, that family member can open up her professional network to the young man to help him land a job—precisely the kind of support that a career center would aim to provide.
It isn’t surprising, then, that blacks and Hispanics, as well as first-generation students and students who are older than the traditional college-going population, rated the help they received from their career-services office and academic advisers more positively than did their white and more affluent counterparts. Especially for first-generation students, a career center might be the first source of job advice they’ve ever encountered. Obviously, not all black and Hispanic students are low-income, but in the United States they are far more likely than whites to be poor, largely due to the country’s legacies of racism and discrimination, which determines how connected they are to the professional workforce.
Despite the existence of career centers, though, a notable number of college students still wind up unemployed (almost 6 percent in 2016) or underemployed (almost 13 percent in 2016) upon graduating. It’s hard to say whether these students even took advantage of their campus’ career services—or of their personal networks—but the data suggest, regardless, that the job centers could be doing more to shepherd young adults into the workforce.
The fact that many jobs are shared via word of mouth rather than posted online indicates that relationship-building is one area in which the centers could improve. They could, for instance, leverage the people on campus who consistently interact with students rather than relying strictly on staff advisors. “Students will go to their trusted network to get information—that may be a faculty member—before they develop a relationship with someone in student affairs or the career office,” said Christine Cruzvergara, the director of Wellesley College’s career-education office. Career centers, she continued, could equip those faculty members with basic information about the job-search process so they can adequately answer any questions they get from students before referring them to career services. The Gallup report echoed this suggestion; it found that almost 50 percent of current students speak often or very often with faculty or staff about their future careers. And those who do find the conversations fruitful, reporting higher levels of confidence about having the knowledge and skills needed to be successful in the job market and workplace (42 percent and 45 percent, respectively) than did students who rarely or never spoke with faculty and staff members (27 percent versus 29 percent).