Gallup: College Type Has Little to Do With Success
Just having one inspiring professor can double a graduate’s odds of being engaged at work.
It turns out that the type of college students attend – and even the majors they choose – could have very little to do with their overall success and well-being after graduation, according to a new index constructed by Gallup and Purdue University. What matters more, the index found, is the overall educational experience and emotional connections students make while in college.
The Great Jobs and Great Lives Gallup-Purdue Index, released Tuesday, sought to measure both the tangible and intangible dimensions shaping individuals’ overall well-being – such as a feeling of purpose, a sense of community, financial stability social support and physical health – by surveying more than 29,000 adults with a bachelor’s degree or higher. Overall, just more than 1 in 10 college graduates are thriving in all five elements, and more than 1 in 6 are not thriving in any measure. Additionally, 39 percent of those surveyed were found to be engaged in their jobs, while 49 percent were not engaged and 12 percent were actively disengaged.
“A lot of people go to college with the expectation that it obviously improves their lives in many dimensions, and only 11 percent of college graduates are thriving in all five elements of their well-being,” says Brandon Busteed, executive director of Gallup Education. “That’s admittedly a pretty tough standard to hit, but there’s a lot of room for improvement in those things.”
But there was no significant difference in a respondent’s workplace engagement or well-being between most types of colleges – public or private; highly selective or not; the top 100 ranked schools in U.S. News versus the rest. Busteed says the researchers even looked into potential differences between Ivy League schools and other colleges, and found a roughly 1 percentage point difference, which was not statistically significant.
“Basically there’s no difference, even when you drill all the way down to what we think of as the highest-level order,” Busteed says. “There’s no doubt in my mind that there are individual institutions that are doing an amazing job on these variables, but that by type … it hardly makes a difference.”
That being said, the researchers did find a difference when it came to school size, as well as for-profit colleges compared with nonprofit colleges. Graduates of smaller schools were slightly less likely to be engaged at work than those from schools with enrollments larger than 10,000, and graduates of for-profit colleges were less likely to be engaged at work and thriving in Gallup’s well-being measures than those from nonprofit colleges.
College majors also had just a small effect on graduates’ workplace engagement. While science and business majors were more likely to be employed full-time than social sciences and arts and humanities majors, the opposite was true when it came to workplace engagement.
“We have a country that’s really invested in STEM careers for obvious reasons, and that may be right for a lot of people, but for some it may not,” Busteed says. “It just changes the story a little bit. I think we need to be more nuanced in that conversation about majors.”
But there were certain factors that could double or triple their workplace engagement and well-being. Graduates who were emotionally supported during college – those who had at least one professor who made them excited about learning, professors who cared about them as a person and a mentor who encouraged them – had double the odds of being engaged in their work and almost three times as likely to be thriving in their well-being. Additionally, those who had “experiential and deep learning” – through a long-term project, an internship or a job and extreme involvement in extracurricular activities – had double the odds of being engaged at work.