Understanding Undergraduate Professional Development Engagement and Its Impact

By Blau, Gary; Snell, Corinne M. | College Student Journal, December 2013 | Go to article overview

Understanding Undergraduate Professional Development Engagement and Its Impact


Blau, Gary, Snell, Corinne M., College Student Journal


Professional Development Engagement (PDE) is defined as the level of undergraduate engagement in professional development. It reflects career-related work preparation for "life after college" and is a distinct externally-focused component of student engagement (SE). The increased college retention and subsequent job placement challenges faced by today's U.S. college graduate suggest the need to study PDE and its impact. Utilizing the SE literature, five different antecedent variable sets are proposed to increasingly affect PDE, i.e., student background; pre-college credentials; college-related; organization-related; and motivation-related. PDE is expected to positively impact two outcomes: timely graduation and appropriate job placement. The PDE model is adaptable for testing across a wide variety of current U.S. college and university environments. The latent construct definitions of variable sets allow for additional variable inclusion beyond the measurement examples given, contingent on the research setting characteristics and resources. The goal is to stimulate empirical testing of this model. (149 words)

Keywords: professional development; student engagement; retention; persistence

Introduction

Of those full-time students beginning college in the United States (US), on average fewer than four in 10 will graduate within four years (Carey, 2005); and less than five in 10 will make it out in five years (Morrow & Ackermann, 2012). Boden (2011-2012) found more recent graduates were persisting longer to complete their degree. As Reason (2009) noted, retention is an institutional term while persistence towards graduating is student-focused. One important component driving graduation success is Student Engagement (SE), i.e., the effort and energy students devote to educationally purposeful activities such as learning, graduating, and acquiring knowledge to succeed in one's envisioned career (Astin, 1993; Carini, Kuh & Klein, 2006). Examples of these activities include time spent studying, development of oral and writing skills, interaction with peers and faculty, and utilization of institutional resources, such as the library and various information technologies (Astin, 1984; Reason, 2009). However, these SE activities are generally internally-focused within a college/university.

The increased job placement challenges faced by today's U.S. college graduate (Kavoussi, 2012; Lipka, 2008) suggest that colleges and universities need to also increase their externally-focused SE efforts to help students find appropriate jobs, e.g., related to one's major, good pay, and career potential (Arcidiacono, 2004; Stone, Zukin & Van Horn, 2012). Stone et al. (2012) found that fewer than half of U.S. college graduates from 2009 to 2011 found their first job within 12 months of graduating, much less than the 73 percent of 2006-2008 graduates who found employment within that time period. An extended unemployment period for recent graduates can have a long-lasting negative impact on both their mental and physical health, as well as life time earnings (Blustein, Medvide & Wan, 2012).

It is argued that much of this needed external focus for SE can be captured by looking at undergraduate Professional Development Engagement (PDE). In this paper PDE is defined as "the level of undergraduate engagement in professional development." Thus, PDE falls within the broader construct of SE, but has a more external focus, i.e., activities designed to help the student persist and successfully transition from college-to-work. Current measures of SE do not adequately measure PDE. It is also argued that greater PDE will enhance the likelihood of a student graduating in a timely manner and having an appropriate job upon graduation. Before proposing a conceptual model for studying PDE a brief literature review on undergraduate development, including distinguishing career development versus professional development, and examining the internally- focused SE literature will be provided.

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