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A Follow-Up of Adult Career Counseling Clients of a University Extension Center.

An unannounced, telephone follow-up evaluation of 181 out-of-school adults who had enrolled in 1 of 2 programs of individual career counseling at a university extension center indicated that 78% were satisfied or very satisfied. Eighty-five percent reported that they were following through on their counseling in a variety of ways, including pursuing further education (35%) and changing jobs or occupations (14%). Satisfaction was not related at a statistically significant level to completion of their allotted counseling interviews, program, gender, or education level. The discussion considers the implications for offering career counseling to adults and for future research.

Adults are increasingly seeking individual career counseling to help in charting their careers, but scrutiny of the costs of career counseling is also increasing (Reardon, 1996). Individual sessions seem well suited for adults because they provide a forum needed by adults for the in-depth examination of their unique work and educational experiences, and individual sessions can more easily accommodate adult schedules. Meta-analyses suggest that individual career counseling sessions are not only the most effective but also one of the most expensive career interventions (Oliver & Spokane, 1988; Whiston, Sexton, & Lasoff, 1998). Yet the career counseling literature provides little information for counselors in university extension centers and community colleges to use in anticipating the costs and benefits of providing such counseling for adults.

Important considerations in a university extension center's decision about offering a service are whether its clientele will make full use of it and whether other services will be required for the service to succeed. Knowing whether subgroups of clients are likely to use different numbers of sessions or require ancillary services (such as support groups and placement assistance) to follow through with their career counseling is essential.

Studies of career counseling of adult clients generally do not address completion of allotted counseling sessions and prescribed assessments, although both require substantial outlays. Spokane (1991) speculated that dropout rates are high, but he did not cite studies confirming that. The single recent study that I located and that provided some information about the career counseling dropout rates of adults is one by Robbins, Chartrand, McFadden, and Lee (1994). They reported that only 71% of the adult clients in a seven-session career counseling workshop attended five or more sessions. Although noncompletion of other forms of counseling in college counseling centers and community agencies is widespread and has been studied extensively (Howard, Kopta, Krause, & Orlinsky, 1986; Mennicke, Lent, & Burgoyne, 1988), it is surprising that it has not received more attention in the literature on career counseling. Nonuse of allotted counseling and assessment hours is also likely to concern counselors in university e xtension centers because high attrition from some of their programs may imperil their state funding. If some client subgroups are not using hours dedicated to their counseling, it would be important to identify them to save resources and to pinpoint possible systemic shortcomings.

Perhaps even more important concerns than such cost factors are client feelings about their experience after they have had a chance to follow through with the action plan developed in counseling and information on the nature of clients' follow-through. Are clients satisfied with some but not other aspects of their career counseling, and what percentages of them change jobs, enter education programs, or follow through in other ways? Counselors serving adults will want to consider the answers to such questions, yet Whiston et al. (1998) noted that none of the intervention studies in their meta-analysis, whether of adult dients or other populations, reported follow-up data on clients.

To provide more information about the career counseling of out-of-school adults, the present study explored the following research questions:

1. What are the completion rates of out-of-school adults in a brief and a comprehensive career counseling program, and do the rates differ by program or by client gender?

2. Do the completion rates of clients in the two counseling programs differ by age or educational level?

3. What percentage of clients are satisfied and are following through on their career counseling 1 to 12 months after their last session?

4. Does satisfaction with two career-counseling programs depend on completion of the program, the number of counseling sessions in the programs, gender, age, or client education level?

5. What kinds of help do clients recall receiving, and what kinds of follow through do they report 1 to 12 months after their last counseling session?

6. Do overall satisfaction and completion relate to the kinds of help recalled by clients and the follow-through actions they report?

7. What do clients recall as not being helpful in career counseling, and what do they recommend for improving it?



The participants were 94 women and 87 men who received career counseling in a brief or comprehensive program at a West Coast university extension center between April 1991 and December 1992. Participants had chosen their program on the basis of a one-page description of each program before counseling or, if they preferred, in their first session. They were the 189 of nearly 400 clients who answered their telephones in response to an unannounced request to evaluate their career counseling. All were called at least 1 month after they last met with their counselor. No former client who was reached declined to participate in the voluntary evaluation, but 8 who had not seen their counselor in more than 1 month elected to resume counseling; those clients were not included in this sample. The Center draws clients from its metropolitan area and is open to any person who wishes to enroll. Most clients learn of the career counseling through the university extension catalog, friends, relatives, or therapists. More than 74% of the participants hold at least a bachelor's degree. The men and women did not differ in age (M= 35.38 years, SD= 9.2) or in education level (M= 4.22, SD =1.5) measured on the continuum 1 = high school or less, 2= some college, 3 = 2 to 4 years of college, 4 = bachelor's degree, 5 = master's degree, 6 = medical or law degree, and 7 = doctoral degree. This is a modified version of Hansen's (1984) 5-point continuum.

University policy prevented asking participants to state their ethnicity, but observation suggested that the majority of participants were Caucasians, with some minority-group members, primarily Asian Americans. Almost all participants sought help in identifying or affirming a satisfying career direction through assessments and individual interviews. The Center referred persons seeking only job placement to other agencies. Reasons that participants could recall during the interview for seeking help included (a) they never had defined a career direction, (b) their current direction was no longer satisfying or economically rewarding, (c) it was timely to explore other alternatives, and (d) they had been laid off or feared layoff in a downsizing industry.

Counseling Programs

Each program was intended to guide clients through the process outlined by Healy (1990). He recommended establishing a collaborative relationship in reviewing a client's educational and work history to illuminate salient abilities, interests, beliefs, contextual considerations, and client questions that assessments and exploration might help the client to answer. Together client and counselor then analyze the findings from the assessments and exploratory activities, using frameworks such as Holland's (1985) or Roe's (1956). They generate options, the client selects suitable ones, they plan steps for the client to take, and finally they discuss possible obstacles that may require attention.

The brief program featured three, 1-hour interviews and 2 to 6 hours of assessment; 28 participants were enrolled in it. In the first session, the counselor attempted to bond with the client by clarifying the client's education and work experiences, goals, and assessment needs. In addition, the counselor encouraged the client to commit to exploration tasks such as discussing questions and ideas arising during the interview with significant others and obtaining information in the Center library or through informational interviews. Between Sessions 1 and 2, the client did all or most assessments and some exploratory tasks. In Session 2, tests were interpreted and their implications for further exploration were developed. In Session 3, client and counselor weighed the findings of the assessments and exploration to identify a career direction or directions and steps for moving forward.

The comprehensive program enrolled 153 participants. It featured five interviews and up to 7 more hours of testing than the brief program did. It followed the same sequence as the brief program but enabled the participant and counselor to devote two sessions to interpreting the assessments and two sessions to integrating findings, identifying options, and planning. Both programs permitted extra sessions for a fee. Three participants from each program had extra sessions.

In both programs, the counselor helped participants select assessments from a library of 60. The most frequently used instruments were the Strong Interest Inventory (Strong, Hansen, & Campbell, 1985), the Values Scale (Super & Nevill, 1985), the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (Briggs & Myers, 1962), the Sixteen Personality Factors Scale (Cattell, Eber, & Tatsuoka, 1962), the Career Assessment Inventory (Johansson, 1986), and the Career Ability Placement Survey (Educational and Industrial Testing Service, 1982). Every participant elected at least one interest inventory and another measure.

One of 12 counseling psychologists did the career counseling. Each had extensive experience; 11 held doctorates, and 5 were licensed psychologists. Ten were Caucasian, 2 were Hispanic, and 5 were female. All but 1, who also managed the Center, provided services on a part-time basis. In a group meeting before offering the programs, the counselors reviewed the model outlined by Healy (1990) to establish parameters for the sessions. After the programs were underway, I and a counselor observed that some clients became more anxious as they explored and considered options. Therefore, I met with the counselors to discuss the ways suggested by Spokane (1991) for providing additional support to clients if their anxiety increased.

Participants were judged to have completed assessments if they did all the assessments chosen collaboratively with their counselor, and they were judged to have completed their counseling interviews if they finished the three or five sessions in their program. Completion was defined as completing all allotted sessions and selected assessments.

Follow-Up Evaluation

I, or one of three doctoral students in educational psychology specializing in counseling, telephoned participants 1 month to a year after their last counseling session to ask about their reactions to the program. First, we told clients that participation was voluntary and part of an ongoing process to improve the program and asked if they would be willing to answer questions about their experience. Next, we asked the following four standardized questions about their counseling experience: (a) What aspects of counseling, including testing, were helpful or useful? (b) What aspects of the program, including testing, were not helpful or useful? (c) What improvements would you recommend for the program? (d) How are you moving forward since last seeing your counselor? Interviewers waited for the participants to respond to each question, and if they were unsure whether a participant had finished, they asked if he or she wished to say more. They did not probe nor ask for elaboration unless an answer was unclear.

Overall Satisfaction

At the end of the 10- to 25-minute interviews, participants were asked, "Overall, how satisfied were you with your progress in career counseling?" and "Overall, how satisfied were you with your counselor?" For each question, they used the following scale: 2 = very satisfied, 1 = satisfied, and 0 = dissatisfied. (Very dissatisfied was not included because, in an earlier follow-up interview, several Center clients said the distinction between dissatisfied and very dissatisfied was meaningless.) Because the ratings of progress and counselor were highly correlated (r=.71, p<.01), they were combined as in Robbins et al. (1994) and Phillips, Friedlander, Kost, Specterman, and Robbins (1988). The mean was 1.08 (SD= 0.74).

To clarify whether the proximity of the telephone evaluation to the last counseling contact might have affected responses, we correlated the number of months since the last contact with the response categories derived from the interview, as had been done by Phillips et al. (1988). Except for a small positive relation (r=.21, p<.01) with the category of information generated from the interview and described below, the resulting rs were not significant. This suggests that proximity to their last counseling interview had, at most, minimal effect on participants' responses.

Helpful and Not Helpful Elements, Recommendations, and Follow-Through

I and one of the interviewers developed categories for the responses to the questions about the helpful and not helpful elements, recommendations, and follow-through from reading the telephone interview sheets. Then the responses were coded independently by two of the interviewers, and disagreements were resolved in a meeting with me. Responses such as "don't know" or "can't remember" were coded as "missing." One hundred sixty-one participants gave 293 codable responses to the question about specific help; 103 gave 120 responses to what was not helpful, whereas 58 said explicitly that everything was helpful or the equivalent; 150 gave 152 suggestions for improvement; and 154 indicated 158 follow-through actions, whereas 27 said they had not followed through. Although many participants gave answers to the four questions that could be put into a single category, some gave responses that fell into two or even three categories. The categories and number of responses in each are presented in the Results section.


Ninety-four percent of the participants did all of their selected assessments, and 67% used all of their allotted counseling sessions. To explore Research Question 1 about program and sex differences in completion, a 2 (gender) x 2 (program) analysis of variance (ANOVA) was computed. It did not detect statistically significant gender or program effects nor an interaction on program completion, F(2,178)=1.16,p>.10). For Question 2 about the association of completion with age and education, the point biserial correlations were not statistically significant. Participants' completion did not appear to vary by program, gender, age, or their education level.


Computations for Question 3 about overall satisfaction and follow-through show that 78% of the participants were satisfied (46%) or very satisfied (32%), and 85% were following through. A 2 (gender) x 2 (program) x 2 (completion) ANOVA tested Question 4, whether there were differences in satisfaction between completers and noncompleters, men and women, and participants in the brief and comprehensive programs. It did not detect statistically significant differences, E(3, 173) = 0.29, p > .10). Completers were not likely to be more satisfied than were noncompleters. Seventy percent of the dissatisfied participants completed their counseling sessions. Neither men nor women, nor brief nor comprehensive participants, differed in overall satisfaction. Correlations of satisfaction with age and education level were not statistically significant either, suggesting that participant age and education is not associated with satisfaction.

The categories developed for Question 5 about what was helpful and the percentages and number of participants with codable responses in them were the following. (a) 43% (n = 69) felt listened to (i.e., heard out and helped to focus by the counselor), enabling them to become surer of their own ideas of self and career. Included in this category were responses such as "Because he was a psychologist I was able to face up, talk about what was important" and "Gave me a chance to hear myself think." (b) 36% (n = 59) experienced clarification of prospects and/or aspects of themselves that were new to them. Responses in this category included "Counselor helped me clarify what I could be good at" and "Helped me see career in a different perspective." (c) 54% (n = 88) mentioned interpretation of tests that brought out propensities, strengths, and weaknesses or confirmed hunches. This category included responses such as "Tests gave answers about what I was good at" and "Testing pinpointed/confirmed abilities I knew I ha d." (d) 25% (n = 41) obtained information about new options or stimulation to get it. This category included responses such as "Got information from the counselor" and "Counselor taught him how to use library." (e) 9% (n 15) received decision-making help or guidance in decision making. For example, one participant said, "Helped me explore options and decide to remain in teaching but with adults." Another said, "Counselor simplified what was complicated and did an outline of decision making." (f) 10% (n = 16) felt encouraged by the counselor. For example, one participant said, "Talking to the counselor increased my self-esteem." A second participant said, "I felt encouraged from talking to the counselor."

The categories developed from the telephone interviews to answer Research Question 5 about kinds of follow-through were (a) 35% (n = 64) reported further education, including new courses, degree or certificate programs, or employer training; (b) 14% (n = 25) entered a new occupation or job; (c) 13% (n = 23) finalized an occupational direction; (d) 13% (n = 24) had reappraised their current occupation/job more favorably; (e) 24% (n = 43) were getting more information to follow through; and (f) 15% (n = 27) reported no follow-through.

Correlations were used to test Question 6 concerning whether overall satisfaction and completion relate to the kinds of help and follow-through reported. Overall satisfaction correlated with felt listened to (r = .25, p < .01), information (r = .33, p < .01), further education (r = .19, p < .05), and doing nothing (r = -.33, p < .01). Overall satisfaction did not correlate at a statistically significant level with the other categories of help or follow- through. Completion correlated with further education (r = .25, p < .01), but not with any of the other follow-through categories or with any of the helpfulness categories.

Regarding the categories and distributions of the 162 responses to Question 7 about what was not helpful, (a) 10% (n = 16) voiced disappointment with the counselor for reasons such as inattentiveness to their situation and mechanical test interpretation, (b) 16% (n = 26) faulted the tests because they did not yield new leads, (c) 15% (n = 24) reported insufficient help from either testing or the counselor in identifying a specific career direction, (d) 10% (n = 16) were disappointed that there were not enough specific job possibilities identified, (e) 10% (n = 16) found the Center's educational or occupational information inadequate, (f) 2% (n = 4) said there was insufficient counseling time, and (g) 36% (n = 58) said all was helpful when asked what was not helpful.


The improvements recommended by the participants included (a) 19% (n = 29) suggested more leads to specific options; (b) 17% (n = 24) advised assistance in job placement; (c) 14% (n = 21) recommended lower fees; (d) 13% (n = 19) called for more time with the counselor for the fee; and (e) 22% (n = 33) suggested logistical improvements, such as more convenient hours and accessible parking. Two participants recommended assistance in getting internships in new occupational areas, and two recommended follow-up support groups for clients after the program.


The findings for Research Question 1 about completion indicated that a substantial minority (33%) of out-of-school adults did not use all of their allotted counseling sessions in two university extension center career counseling programs. The completion rates for the two programs were not statistically different. Moreover, the analysis for Question 2 about whether there were differences in completion by age, gender, and education level did not detect an association. In most instances, early termination meant that participants did not collaborate with their counselors in developing specific career plans. This is because integrating findings from the initial interview, multiple assessments, and exploratory activities almost always took at least one session in the brief program and at least two sessions in the comprehensive program. Some early terminators did not select an educational or occupational objective. The session completion rate of 67% is similar to the rate of 71% reported by Robbins et al. (1994). Th ey categorized as "completed" clients who finished at least five of seven scheduled group sessions. This similarity increases the possibility that the findings about completion may generalize to other university extension centers, but it does not eliminate the need for replication.

The findings about satisfaction and follow-through for Research Question 3 indicate that a majority of out-of-school adults were satisfied with their career counseling and were following through 1 to 12 months later. Seventy-eight percent of the participants from the two programs reported overall satisfaction. As indicated in the analysis of Research Question 5, many participant responses about what was helpful fell into categories that could be called "being listened to," "help in clarifying assets and values," "feedback from testing," and "information." These categories seem to be similar to the components of insight, information giving, support, and clarification, which Kirschner, Hoffman, and Hill (1994) concluded contributed to the success of the client in their intensive case study. Other helpful elements found by Kirschner et al. (1994), such as challenge to the client to shake up her or his conceptualizations and focus on the relationship, were not as evident in the answers of the participants in our study.

Participant responses about follow-through presented for Research Question 5, moreover, were consistent with being satisfied. Eighty-five percent reported that they had already taken actions such as pursuing courses and degrees, gathering more information, and changing occupations or jobs; only 15% said that they had done nothing since their last interview. The rate of satisfaction seems to be slightly higher than the rate Phillips et al. (1988) found in their 1-year follow-up of a small sample of career counseling clients from a community clinic.

The reports that counseling was helpful when it helped participants to feel listened to, clarify their own ideas, and confirm their hunches through testing but was not helpful when the counselor was inattentive, have implications for the process outlined by Healy (1990). Those reports suggest that adults, such as the participants in the present study, want to collaborate in their career appraisals. Although the study was not designed to test the contribution of elements of the process described by Healy, and it did not assess the fidelity of the counselors to that process, the findings suggest that there is a need to investigate whether elements of it, such as level of collaboration, enhance career counseling outcomes. Practically, collaboration seemed helpful both in pinpointing the results of assessment to highlight and develop and in providing motivation for exploration and follow-through.

Although 78% of the participants were satisfied overall, analysis of Question 7 showed that 64% answering the question about what was not helpful reported shortcomings. Nearly half of those shortcomings can be categorized as lack of specific leads from either testing or the counselor. One of the recommendation categories, too, concerned more specific leads and another was for assistance in job placement. The tenor of participants' answers to what was not helpful and what they would recommend indicates that some expect more leads to career options and help in accessing them. On the basis of their intensive case study, Kirschner et al. (1994) suggested that in addition to a therapeutic alliance, career counseling clients expect specific career information.

Use of all sessions did not relate to satisfaction with counseling as indicated by the analysis for Question 4. Seventy percent of the dissatisfied participants had completed their interviews. Analysis of the responses to the question about what was helpful suggests that one reason for the lack of relation is that some participants were seeking only self and occupational information. They did not want help in deciding and planning. When asked what was helpful, participants named elements such as being listened to, clarification, feedback from testing, and information acquisition more often than they mentioned help with decision making. Their statements about what was not helpful, too, seemed to focus on lack of job leads from testing or from the interaction with their counselor, rather than from a lack of guidance in decision making. Indeed, a few participants who expressed satisfaction with counseling but did not use their last interview volunteered that they could do the planning on their own. More than tw o decades ago, Arbeiter, Aslanian, Schmerbeck, and Brickell (1978) concluded from an extensive survey of adults that most Americans thought that small amounts of self- and occupational information would give them the help they needed to advance their careers. Relatively few thought they needed career counseling to integrate that information. Some participants in this study seemed to think the same way.

The finding that as many as 33% of the participants passed up the opportunity to engage in systematic decision making and planning with their counselor may also indicate that they did not think that the planning and decision-making approach offered in the dosing interview suited them. Recently Phillips (1997) pointed out that the rational decision paradigm undergirding most career counseling approaches does not fit the ways many adults actually make decisions about their careers. Further study of clients not using all of their counseling sessions is desirable to test these possibilities.

Another possible reason for lack of a relationship between satisfaction and completion may stem from the study's definition of completion. A few dissatisfied participants said that their program did not include enough sessions to reach closure, but they were categorized as completed because they had finished the allotted sessions and chose not to pay for extra ones. A few nonfinishers who were positive about the insights from the process volunteered that changes in their circumstances (e.g., family emergencies, poor job market, financial constraints) prevented following through and obviated their need for a planning session.

My findings suggest that well-educated adults will find brief individual career counseling programs featuring assessments and a limited number of counseling interviews useful in developing their careers and that some adults may not want assistance in developing plans from the appraisal results. The findings also suggest that effective career counseling for adults requires bonding with the client and access to current career information, including linkages with job placement services or World Wide Web sites. To reduce costs of individual career counseling, therefore, extension centers might experiment with two-tier programs. The first tier would include assessments and only two or three counselor sessions. In the first session, the counselor could establish a collaborative relationship by reviewing the client's career and agreeing about appropriate assessments and exploratory activities. In the next one or two sessions, the counselor and client could interpret assessment results in relation to their relevance to possible options. The second tier of sessions would be available to clients who wanted to have counselor help in making career decisions and in developing plans from the results of their appraisal.

My findings and those of Robbins et al. (1994) suggest that counselors also consider approaches for fostering perseverance in career counseling. At the start of counseling, one can alert clients about the objectives that can be achieved during the process, and at the close of each session counselor and client can discuss the benefits to be realized from their next meeting. This seems especially important in the session that precedes the scheduled final one. The serendipitous resumption of counseling by 8 clients after being called for an evaluation suggests that telephone reminders of appointments may also improve attendance.

The findings and suggestions from this study must be regarded with caution. They are based on a well-educated, primarily Caucasian clientele from only one university extension center. The measures have only narrow ranges, and several demanded that participants spontaneously produce answers to open-ended questions. Some were generated from the participants' responses rather than from independent research. Their limited ranges reduced the possibility of detecting relations among them, and their demand character may have led to underestimation of the helpful and nonhelpful elements and the amount of follow-through. Also, the researchers may have introduced bias in gathering and coding participant responses. Consequently, replication is recommended before regarding the findings as more than suggestive. Nonetheless, the study presents previously unavailable empirical data that alerts counselors who would evaluate adults' follow-through on career counseling to assess a variety of outcomes, and it suggests that som e adults find career counseling with minimal counselor contact acceptable. Consideration of such findings seems timely in this era of downsizing, when agencies are being challenged to establish accountability and to reduce the number of interviews available to career counseling clients.

Charles C. Healy is a professor in the Department of Education at the University of California, Los Angeles.


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Author:Healy, Charles C.
Publication:Career Development Quarterly
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 1, 2001
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