University of South Carolina Upstate

‘Moving Up’ Students With Push for Career Readiness

This university’s focus on social mobility and a culture of success for all students resulted in a new initiative that pulls together faculty, staff, and employers to concentrate on career readiness to prepare the students for success now and in the future.

Expanding on its more than 50 years of graduating educated, talented individuals for regional employers, the University of South Carolina (USC) Upstate has launched a new five-year initiative deliberately intended to connect every student with professional opportunities to create a culture of success. The first year of the Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP), known as Moving Up, began in the fall 2022 semester after around three years of planning and relationship-building among university faculty and staff as well as local and regional businesses. Moving Up is integral to the university’s accreditation with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC), which recognizes degree-granting higher education institutions in the southern U.S. and Latin America every 10 years. The plan’s emphasis on career skills resulted from university officials consulting national surveys from employers, as well as observations from several regional employers who expressed concern about the few new hires with proficiency in these skills. Faculty and staff also noted that an increasing number of students were seeking career-readiness learning opportunities at USC Upstate’s Office of Career Management.

This research compelled university officials to take deliberate steps in instilling career readiness throughout every student’s academic experience by developing career-ready core competencies. Among them are communication, critical thinking, equity and inclusion, leadership, and professionalism, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, an association that connects universities, colleges, recruiters, career service professionals, and employers.

Other dimensions of the QEP are improving the career management office and strengthening the university’s collaboration with advisors to ensure career goals are met. As such, the initiative reinforces USC Upstate’s commitment to improving the social mobility of all students and ensuring they are an employer’s first choice.

The Methodology

The development of Moving Up began in late 2019 during the university’s strategic planning cycle when the importance of career readiness and social mobility emerged. USC Upstate organized a steering committee consisting of individuals from a cross section of the university community. Among the participants were representatives from the Center for Academic Innovation and Faculty Support, Office of Career Management, Institutional Effectiveness and Compliance, and various academic departments. For a year, the committee studied internal and external data as well as feedback from community partners, among other sources, to determine ways to ensure the success of all university graduates in pursuit of their career goals.

Through their research, the committee presented a plan that formalized various aspects of career readiness. Through summer workshops, faculty members from every major explored ways to incorporate career preparation in their courses and departments, and advisors learned the skills to guide students in the creation of their career maps. The Office of Career Management and the Center for Academic Innovation and Faculty Support are expected to be improved with additional resources and emphasis, and an e-portfolio system is being adopted to allow students to document their professional and career growth. In addition, Upstate GROW is being implemented to enhance the professionalism of student employees by working with their supervisors to rethink student employment as a high-impact practice. Finally, career exploration is being integrated into introductory college courses and developed into a new career-centered course to enhance student success in their current and future jobs. Through these efforts, USC Upstate intends to help every student understand, articulate, and focus their strengths and ambitions into successful careers and achieve social mobility.

The Impact

From the outset, Moving Up’s projected outcomes involve each student articulating a plan through which their career goals could be achieved. Their plans entail identifying and pursuing the academic program, co-curricular experiences, skills, abilities, and other characteristics necessary and relevant to realize their professional goals upon graduation. To ensure Moving Up is measuring up, SACSCOC is expected to visit USC Upstate for an on-site review of the initiative in March 2023. The QEP’s steering committee is also seeking an off-site peer group to review the plan.

Key Takeaways

National data, anecdotal information from regional employers, and surveys of USC Upstate graduates helped the steering committee develop the universitywide plan to address professional and career development. For an entire institution to efficiently participate in advancing an initiative, it must identify an issue central to its work or mission and a topic that could make a significant impact on student learning and engagement.

“USC Upstate provides students with transferable skills, knowledge, and experiences that enable them to maximize their potential, both personally and professionally. We are very excited about this QEP [Quality Enhancement Plan], as we see the potential it has to further enhance not only our already strong impact on social mobility, but to create a culture of success that will make USC Upstate a destination of choice.”

Bennie Harris, Ph.D., chancellor, USC Ups

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