In 2014, a Gallup survey brought to fore a new way to measure a college’s worth. Partnering with Purdue University, the study rolled out the findings of the Gallup-Purdue Index (now called the Gallup Alumni Survey), which teased stakeholders to give their assessment of a college’s worth a second look. The index did away with academic metrics like faculty pedigree, alumni employability, and facilities, which popular university ranking lists use. Instead, it focused on the more subjective aspects of college life: a professor’s support and internship experience.
The Gallup-Purdue Index managed to put values linking one’s quality of college life to his work engagement and well-being years later. The study results are discussed below, including Gallup’s follow-up survey in 2016. Both works point to the value of mentorship and inclusive experiences in college as a way to achieve happiness in one’s career.
Salary may be a good indicator for career success considering the popularity of high-paying degrees. But money is not the only factor—maybe not even the primary measure if we consider the findings of the Global Career Aspiration Survey (Right Management 2015). In a survey of employees worldwide, work-life balance turned up as the main career aspiration for many (45%). Moreover, when asked to define success at work, respondents put happiness (26%) above salary (19%).
Where happiness, or good salary for that matter, is sorely missed in the workplace, the same study revealed that 75% of employees are unengaged at work. Career development opportunities may drive engagement sixfold, according to the Right Management study, but in the Gallup-Purdue Index, we are shown a different angle on what makes employees tick to love their work.
When it comes to workplace engagement and general well-being, what students experienced in college matters more than the type of college or university they attended (Gallup 2014). Just as many employees who are committed to their jobs graduated from private college or university as from public ones. The same equal ratio can be gleaned from measuring their well-being after college. What matters, the study says, is whether students get the support and positive experiences that drive them to pursue learning. This engaged attitude, the study suggests, spills over to the workplace years later, when a student is adjusting to life after college.
The Gallup-Purdue Index found out that a student who had a professor who cared for him as a person is nearly twice (1.9x) more likely to be engaged at work down the road. The likelihood is higher for students with a mentor who encouraged them to pursue their goals and dreams: more than twice (2.2x). On a broader scale, students who attended a college that is passionate about the long-term success of its students or a college that “prepared me well for life outside of college” are 2.4x and 2.6x, respectively, more likely to be engaged at work.
It bears noting that the findings are based on subjective measures that, in turn, are largely based on how one remembers college life.
Source: Gallup-Purdue Index
Source: Gallup-Purdue Index
The Gallup Alumni Survey draws attention to itself not so much for its findings as to the novelty way of looking at a college’s worth. Until Gallup came up with the survey, colleges and universities were largely measured, and still are, along factors that reflect their academic strength.
The U.S. News Best Colleges, a popular annual ranking of over 1,400 colleges and universities in the U.S., use 17 metrics of academic quality, none of which is about a student’s life in college. The metrics include student-faculty ratio, average federal loan debt of graduates, GPA, SAT/ACT scores of freshmen, and ocular campus visits. The publisher, in fact, is explicit that it “does not consider nonacademic factors” in its ranking algorithm (U.S. News, n.d.).
Similarly, Times Higher Education or THE World University Rankings focuses on the institution’s teaching, research, and impact to tell why one university is better than the other. THE ranks 1,500 universities worldwide based on 13 indicatorsーexcept college life. These include staff-to-student ratio, income per student, population of international students and gender ratio (THE, n.d.).
Yet another widely cited ranking resource, the QS World University Rankings evaluates universities across six academic measures, including employer reputation, academic reputation, citations per faculty, and international faculty ratio (QS World University Rankings, n.d.).
Even if the intent is not to rank universities but to assess college graduates, the college experience factor is hardly touched. For example, the Valid Assessment of Learning in Undergraduate Education (VALUE), a project of the Association of American Colleges & Universities, evaluates college graduates across 16 learning outcomes that will help them achieve success in work and life later. But there is no link to the support or experience they got in college. The metrics include critical thinking, creative thinking, written and oral communication, quantitative literacy, problem solving, ethical reasoning, and civic engagement (AACU, n.d.).
Predictably, colleges and universities are measured today along quantifiable values, and rightly so, as any reputable survey demands a calculable framework. But there is a cold, mechanical approach to these evaluations, as if students come out of the assembly line bereft of behavioral influences. Something is missing and the Gallup survey believes it is the human touch and environmental factor. Both of these are hoped to complete the picture of how truly worth is one’s college or university.
The Gallup-Purdue Index applied the same approach to customer engagement to measure the graduates’ emotional attachment to their college. In Gallup’s myriad studies across industries, it found out that fully engaged customers stay longer and buy more than average customers. By the same token, the idea of college graduates who are more attached to their alma mater, the study posits, suggests a positive experience in collegeーthat they have had supportive professors and experiences that excited them to pursue their careers. The study wanted to find out if this support-experience combination in college life, or a lack thereof, could have a profound impact on a person’s life after college, primarily, workplace engagement and general well-being.
To be sure, linking a teacher’s influence to a person’s success is nothing new. Many can recall that spark of learning created by their favorite teacher, as TV host Winfrey Oprah once said to what Mrs. Duncan, her fourth grade teacher, did to her. “It’s why I have a talk show today.” Such inspiring stories are great but highly anecdotal and, at best, confined to the formative years of elementary or high school life.
Similarly, we don’t fall short of studies linking environmental factors in college life, which support and experience fall under, to life after college.
In her book, The Nature and Nurture of Critical Thinking, Diane Halpern expressed belief that if the students’ critical thinking skills are recognized and supported in college, they turn to better thinkers, such that a world of opportunities beckons to them. Perusing over job ads, she illustrates that critical thinking is a consistent and expected top job skill, especially for high posts like CEO and executives (Halpern, 2007) . But she laments how little thought is given to this skill in the traditional discipline-based instruction, and she proceeds to cite the study of Wood (1987) where planning and monitoring (words construed as nurturing) can develop this essential skill in the workplace.
The nurture link in college is much clearer in the development of creative talent. Where research has found zero relationship between intelligence and talent (Mackinnon 1962), academic metrics should matter less, if not at all. This leaves nurture as the key driver to seeing to the student’s full potential. In many cases, nurture takes the shape of mentorship, the teacher keeping close tabs on a student’s progress and imparting advice based on the teacher’s experience. In another study, the students’ aspiration to mentorship proved one of the strongest predictors for the intent to persist, that is, finish their studies (Baier, Markman, & Pernice-Duca 2016).
The Gallup findings are hardly the stuff that shakes the educational and workplace sector or present us with ground-breaking life after college tips. But they did yank at the strings tied to our idea of what a good college is. Whether you are a student, a parent, an administrator, or a policymaker, the Gallup Alumni Survey can only add to your insight on the college-work link. Where the study should make the strongest impact, three aspects stand out:
What the Gallup study did ,and plans to do in future surveys, is to formalize this link between college life and life after college based on nonacademic factors. Anecdotes are good, but a study like Gallup’s provide the meat. Now known as the Gallup Alumni Survey, the study is peddled to colleges and universities as a formal way to help them discover the ultimate definition of their institution’s success: how its alumni fare in life.
The Gallup study has revealed, too, that colleges and universities have the work cut out for them to improve college life. Only 14% of alumni fully believed they got support from their professors and, worse, only 6% strongly agreed they had an internship that allowed them to apply their learning in a project. Worst, only 3% said they got both great support and experience in college. If colleges and universities are to leverage the Gallup insights, they can start instituting changes at the classroom and campus levels.
HR managers stand to benefit also from the study findings. Gallup said its insights adds to the metrics an employer use to choose between two fresh graduates from different institutions and backgrounds. The benefit is starker when selecting two candidates with equal qualifications in terms of academic strength and non-curricular participationーwho has a more engaged college life? The HR manager who can figure this out will be rewarded with a committed staff in years to come.
Lastly, but most importantly, students stand to reap the most reward off the Gallup study. They are given a clear factor to consider when choosing a college or university. Even currently enrolled students can leverage the study outcomes by clamoring for support and experience from a faculty that assigns too much emphasis on academic values. And, truth be told, graduates from non-Ivy schools who have had great college life experiences should feel more empowered now against someone from Harvard or Princeton with a more frigid college life.
At best, the Gallup Alumni Survey reminds colleges and universities that they are producing, not a product, but a person. It highlights the behavioral influences at play when molding young minds for the future. Strong academic skills are a must. But satisfaction and happiness should also be placed at the center, instead of the peripheral, of college-after-life measurement. The Gallup study provokes institutions to take a closer look at their existing benchmarks.
The study introduces a new index to measure colleges and universities, but in truth, it does not supplant how colleges and universities are measured today. Rather, it adds a new weighted factor, something to give us a bigger picture of how good really, is the college we attended, or more importantly, plan to attend.