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Many Strayer University students are earning a degree for one reason: to improve their lives through career change, salary increase, or promotion. Students make a large investment of both time and money to earn that degree and should know how it leads to the achievement of their goals.

Dr. Andrea Backman is the first Chief Employability Officer in the higher education industry. Her mission is to prove a return on investment for Strayer students. She spoke with Scholar about helping students identify and achieve their goals.

What is a Chief Employability Officer?

BACKMAN: As an institution of higher learning, we owe it to our students to guide them to real success—a better job, a higher salary, and a more satisfying career. My role, and that of my team, is to provide measurable, impactful ROI by focusing on professional and financial outcomes.

How are you proving return on investment (ROI)?

BACKMAN: When we speak with students, they share concerns about the changing employment landscape today—the digital economy, automation in the workforce—and how their courses may or may not apply directly to jobs. We have started adding digital skills to many of our 100-level courses [see pg. 19] to ensure that students have the tech skills required for today’s competitive market.

Students also express some confusion around why they have to take general education courses such as history or philosophy, because those “don’t apply” to their career goals. However, we have designed our liberal arts courses to teach key employability skills, so that students learn to see and think big picture, understand complexity, and communicate well—all skills that are highly valued and in-demand by employers [see pg. 13].

How does your work directly help students?

BACKMAN: Everything we do is centered on giving students the tools to measure their skills, understand the ROI, and articulate their value to employers. And that starts at the very beginning of their academic journey.

For instance, a mapping program, modeled on a GPS navigation system, will guide students in setting their ultimate career goal and then visualize steps and milestones on the path [see pg. 10]. GPS will not only keep the student accountable—but keep us, the administrators and teachers, accountable as well. Having the academic pathway connected directly to a career goal helps everyone think differently about the steps to get there.

What does success look like for your team?

BACKMAN: Delivering a positive academic experience to students is still critical, but just getting the degree is not enough. Our students care deeply about career outcomes and return on investment—our role is to help them achieve their ultimate goal and their ultimate destination, which is economic and career mobility.

About Dr. Andrea Backman

Dr. Andrea Backman is focused on ensuring short- and long-term employability gains for students and graduates as Chief Employability Officer. Prior to this role, Andrea served as Provost and Chief Academic Officer for Strayer University, overseeing faculty, curricula, learning design, and institutional research. Andrea also served as Dean of the Jack Welch Management Institute and held leadership positions at the University of Virginia and DePaul University. She holds a Ph.D. from the University of Virginia.

Connect with Andrea on LinkedIn.

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