Career Centers

Career CentersThe comprehensive college and university career center is a uniquely American phenomenon that has evolved over the past 100 or more years in response to changing educational, economic, political, and social conditions. This entry identifies several historic events in the evolution of the career center, outlines the core functional elements, enumerates the behavioral objectives, and provides a brief summary and look to the future.

Prior to the passage of the Morrill Act, also known as the Land Grant College Act, in 1862, higher education in the United States was a privilege to which a relatively small percentage of the population had access. Students entering higher education did so largely with a view to entering the professions, and there was little need for career assistance that could not be provided by faculty who took a natural interest in the career development and aspirations of their students. The Land Grant College Act changed all that. With the passage of the Morrill Act in 1862, the nation entered an era of unprecedented public support for higher education. Prior to that, the majority of those who entered college were generally more concerned with accumulating credits and acquiring licenses than with learning any particular skill while enrolled. The passage of the Morrill Act signaled a sea change in the national philosophy toward and resource commitment to public higher education and redefined higher education as a means by which the masses could acquire not only knowledge but also marketable skills and professional preparation to enter the workforce.

The Truman Commission Report of 1948 acknowledged the economic significance of higher education for the first time, determined that half or more of the American public was capable of completing a baccalaureate degree and, more important, that the public had a “right” to expect that public support of higher education would put a bachelor’s degree within reach of any American who had the ability to secure one. Essentially, higher education became a “right” rather than a privilege, and a massive resource influx from the GI Bill and other sources propelled public higher education to unprecedented growth. With this rapid growth and the necessity to meet the needs of huge, diverse student bodies, higher education was forced to specialize. Faculties were no longer able or willing to provide for myriad out-of-class needs of students, giving birth to a new classification of professionals called “student affairs.” The offices that evolved to provide for the career development needs of students were called “placement offices,” the early forerunners of career services.

By the end of World War II, public higher education had become a major societal force whose raison d’etre had become so integrated with that of business and government that some critics began to refer to the educational/military/industrial complex in a derogatory way. The single-purpose placement office that had done little more than assist students in finding their first jobs was no longer adequate to meeting the increasingly complex career development needs of students and the greater society.

At the same time that public higher education was experiencing massive growth, the world of work had shifted from being primarily agrarian to manufacturing and was now moving into the postindustrial era: The “knowledge revolution” had begun. With these changes came the recognition that the work of the career center was more than simply finding jobs for students, a “point-in-time event”; rather, career development was increasingly seen as a complex, lifelong process.

These were the conditions that led to the establishment of the core elements of the comprehensive, modern-day career center as enumerated by Jack Rayman. An annotated list of these core elements is as follows:

  • Career counseling and planning: Drop-in, individual, computerized, and group counseling, including formal assessment and evaluation
  • Recruitment and employer relations (placement): The establishment and maintenance of formal relationships with a broad range of potential employers, including on-campus recruiting services, vacancy listing services, and elaborate informational resources in support of the placement function
  • Career programming, outreach, and marketing: A sophisticated and expansive array of seminars, workshops, courses for credit, and career fairs and the technology to deliver these programs in person, via phone, fax, and the Internet to clients throughout the world
  • Information technology support: The technical personnel, hardware, software, and communications network to deliver the broad array of career services described above 24/7, anywhere in the world, and the technical capacity to free up professional career services staff time for tasks that require human sensitivity
  • Career information management and communications: A well-developed career library and employer information center including Web and Internet access and the communications network to deliver all informational resources on demand to students, faculty, staff, employers, and alumni clients anywhere in the world
  • Training: The staff, facilities, and commitment to provide continuous and ongoing professional development and training to work-study students, volunteers, interns, graduate assistants, counselors in training, graduate students, clerical and professional staff, and postdoctoral interns seeking to enhance their skills as career services counselors and professionals
  • Research, assessment and evaluation: The staff, resources, and commitment to conduct ongoing career development and choice research, assessment, and evaluation, including evaluation of all facets of the center’s staff, functions, and services, both summative and formative

Perhaps the most important factor in defining the modern career center is a set of nine behavioral objectives or learning outcomes for clients who use those services. The following is a set of widely accepted behavioral objectives for clients of the modern career center:

  • Increased exploration and understanding of career information and options
  • Increased self-understanding in terms of values, interests, skills, and abilities and how those personal characteristics relate to a variety of careers
  • Increased awareness of the need to plan and to take responsibility for one’s own career destiny
  • The development of greater understanding of one’s self, occupations, and the relationship between self and occupations
  • The development of a realistic, appropriate, and congruent occupational choice
  • Increased knowledge of available career options and an understanding of the means of attaining those options
  • Increased knowledge of appropriate job-search strategies and job-seeking skills and experience using those strategies and skills
  • Placement into a job, acceptance into further education or training, or some client-accepted alternative life/career objective
  • The development of an awareness that career development is a lifelong process and the development of a set of skills to ensure the successful navigation of that process

In the last century, the college and university placement office has evolved from a single-purpose administrative unit offering a narrow range of placement services to a comprehensive services center providing a complex array of career services to multiple constituent groups throughout the life span. While career centers vary in size, mission, and organizational structure, the trend is inescapably toward greater size, increasing centralization, and a broader, more comprehensive mission.

See also:


  1. Herr, E. L., Heitzmann, D. E. and Rayman, J. R. Forthcoming. The Professional Counselor as Administrator: Perspectives on Leadership and Management of Counseling Services across Settings. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
  2. Herr, E. L., Rayman, J. R. and Garis, J. W. 1993. Handbook for the College and University Career Center. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.
  3. Jencks, C. and Riesman, D. 1968. The Academic Revolution. Garden City, NY: Doubleday.
  4. Rayman, J. R., ed. 1993. The Changing Role of Career Services. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.