Emsi Case Study (See Full Archive)
This spring, Santa Fe College in Gainesville, Florida, became the latest in a line of Emsi clients to win the coveted Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence. And one of the players behind two key Aspen criteria—student completion and placement in high-wage jobs—was Emsi’s online career pathway tool, Career Coach.
“Career Coach helps show the value of our programs and highlight the high wages that students can get from those programs,” said Naima Brown, Vice President for Student Affairs at Santa Fe College (SF). “It certainly helps us show the value of a Santa Fe College degree and that we are meeting the needs of the community.”
Three Goals for Career Coach
Part of Santa Fe College’s success with Career Coach springs from the fact that the college had a strong, focused mission from the beginning. The labor market data in Career Coach allows visitors to explore the connection between an institution’s degree programs and related local careers—a connection Santa Fe College took advantage of.
When the college launched Career Coach in September 2013, the objectives were to connect to SF students by guiding them along compelling career paths to degree completion and to demonstrate to the community at large the connection between the college’s programs and potential careers. “My expectations were that we would improve enrollment, increase community knowledge of our degree programs, and improve counseling and advising for our students,” Brown said.
Sharpening Students’ Goals
First, Career Coach is a ubiquitous member of the welcoming committee for new students. Besides appearing on the home page of the college website, Career Coach is featured on the front page of the student web portal—a strategic move which doubled the number of online visitors in the first month. Career Coach is also used at new student orientation in pathfinder workshops geared toward students who haven’t settled on programs or careers.
Timing is key. By putting Career Coach to work early in a student’s college career, SF grabs a student’s attention before they get lost in a sea of choices, distractions, and decelerators that commonly plague students everywhere.
“Ensuring that students have a goal in mind when they begin college is a sure way to motivate them to finish,” observed Brown, who, as the overseer of the college’s career center, brings a crucial perspective to the challenge of student motivation. “When students explore their career options at the outset, they will be more likely to stay the course in a career that is directly associated with their program.”
Serving the Community
Santa Fe College also promotes Career Coach to three major external audiences: local jobseekers, nontraditional students, and high school students. At the county library, Career Coach has been installed on the public computers where job seekers are likely to pop in, and Brown has personally trained the librarians to coach visitors through the tool.
“I called and asked if we could come by and share Career Coach with them,” Brown recalled. “Once they saw it, the librarians said, ‘This is a great tool to have here because jobseekers often come in.’ ”
As for nontraditional students, SF launched a campaign targeting businesses that would cover the cost of college for their workers.
“We set up time to talk with employees,” Brown said. “We explained that Career Coach allows you to see how the programs we offer might relate to you moving up in your current job or expanding into others.”
In order to reach the regional high school students, SF sent postcards advertising Career Coach “to hopefully create a pathway to Santa Fe College and through Santa Fe College to their career goals,” Brown said. “We wanted them to know that Santa Fe College can start you to where you’re going. Those mail-outs got our website a lot of hits.”
Although the mailer focused on a teenage audience, it featured an important truth about Career Coach: “This tool is cool for parents too.” As Brown explained: “We wanted parents to look at Santa Fe College as an option if they want to change careers or just explore what else is out there.”
Career Coach Kiosks: Hip and On-the-Go
But Brown said the college wanted more—something big and splashy that would promote Career Coach even further.
“We had a meeting and we talked about what we could do to get Career Coach out in the community,” Brown recalled. “We were all brainstorming. Then someone said, ‘We’ve got to be able to take it with us.’” One committee member suggested iPads—and the suggestion quickly snowballed into SF’s most innovative vision yet: Career Coach kiosks.
These slim, sleek, mobile stands sporting Career Coach-armed iPads parade the halls of SF’s admissions center. But true to the original idea, the kiosks don’t just sit at the college. “We’ve taken them out to high schools and career events,” Brown said, noting that the kiosks perform twice as well when staffed by advisors ready to chat with potential students.
Overall, Santa Fe College’s real victory with Career Coach has been ensuring that students stay on track through the classroom and into the labor market. “Our job placement rates are in the upper levels nationwide,” Brown said. “We have been very successful with programs that lead to successful jobs.”
It’s tactics like this that don’t just win awards, but help produce students who win at life.
About Career Coach
Emsi’s online career pathway tool, customizable to any college or university, allows users to explore the connection between an institution’s educational programs and related local careers. Detailed and real-time labor market data (such job growth, wages, hiring patterns, and job postings) are combined to build a strong connection between programs and real-world outcomes. With Career Coach, students and jobseekers can plan their career with confidence and gain the vision they need to stay engaged in their studies.
About Santa Fe College
Founded in 1966, Santa Fe College is part of the Florida College System and a charter member of the prestigious League for Innovation in the Community College. SF is a public college offering bachelor’s degrees, associate degrees and almost 90 fast-track career and technical certificates, with an annual enrollment of about 22,000. Santa Fe College was named the number one community college in the nation by the Aspen Institute in 2015. SF is home to a planetarium, a nationally recognized teaching zoo and a state-of-the-art Fine Arts Hall, and annually produces the Santa Fe College Spring Arts Festival, the largest cultural arts event in Alachua County. Visit sfcollege.edu for more information.