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How the Financial Impact of the Pandemic May Affect College Career Centers

Updated: Aug 11, 2020

The financial impact of the coronavirus on college and universities is staggering like it is across much of the economy. In response, many schools have been forced to lay off faculty and staff, furlough employees, eliminate entire programs, and make substantial budget cuts. Some institutions are facing losses of more than $100 million as a result of the crisis.

According to a July 21st University Business article, the University of Massachusetts system is facing a $264 million deficit and will lay off 6% of its full-time employees and furlough thousands more. And the University of North Carolina system directed its campus chancellors to submit plans for a 50% “worst-case scenario” budget cuts.

It is not a giant leap to expect that college career services offices will be impacted as well. Prior to this crisis, career center budgets increased at a very modest rate-- less than 6% since 2011 according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), the trade association for college career centers. The overall median career services operating budget (non-personnel) in 2017 was $35,000.

As of mid-May of this year, a NACE Quick Poll reported that 14% of career centers expect a decrease of more than 10% in their operating budgets and 51% were still undecided. Only 27% of career centers report no expected change in their budgets. I expect that if this poll was conducted now, the results would differ with many of the “undecided” being forced to cut their budgets as a result of broader University cuts.

What does this mean for college students returning to campus-- especially Seniors? Students should not expect “business as usual’ in the career services office.

There may be staff reductions in career services offices. Even if the staff levels remain unchanged, students can expect longer lead times to schedule one-to-one appointments with career counselors due to increased demand.

Many of the traditional career programs and in-person events sponsored by the career centers may be canceled. Some programs may be offered online which requires a different kind of preparation. You can expect virtual job fairs and information sessions by your school’s top recruiters. It is important to determine what resources and programs will be available and sign up as early as possible. Students should not wait until after classes begin.

Due to many companies reducing or eliminating business travel, students may not see the same employers as in 2019 coming to campus to recruit and interview. In this case, college seniors looking for a job should take the initiative to contact these employers and inquire about full-time opportunities.

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