New national survey reveals correlations between college experience and career success

colleges-success-gallupIn the current national discussion on whether or not a college degree is worth the price paid, one of the most important considerations (at least in today’s economy) is whether or not the graduate has a “successful” career. But can institutions measure that success?

“When thinking about the ultimate outcome of a college degree, there is almost universal agreement about the value people seek and expect: to increase the probability of getting a good job and having a better life. Yet, there is not a single college or university in the U.S. that has rigorously researched and measured whether their graduates have ‘great jobs’ and ‘great lives,’ said the report.

The report, “Great Jobs, Great Lives: The 2014 Gallup-Purdue Index Report,” focuses research efforts on outcomes that can provide insight into these common aspirations for colleges grads, no matter what type of institution they attend.

“For years, the value of a college degree has been determined not by the most important outcomes of a college education, but by the easiest outcomes to measure, namely job and graduate school placement rates and alumni salaries,” explains the report. “While these metrics have some merit, they do not provide a holistic view of college graduates’ lives. They do not reflect the missions of higher education institutions, and they do not reflect the myriad reasons why students go to college.”

During a 2014 month-long study, where nearly 30,000 U.S. adults who had completed at least a bachelor’s degree were polled, Gallup and Purdue found that when it comes to being engaged at work and experiencing high well-being after graduation, they type of institution they attended matters less than what they experienced there.

Yet, just three percent of all the graduates studied had the types of experiences in college that Gallup finds strongly relate to great jobs and great lives afterward.

[For more information on the criteria Gallup uses to measure great jobs and satisfaction, as well as how the survey was conducted, read the report.]

(Next page: 2 ways colleges can guarantee success)

After the survey, Gallup and Purdue found interesting correlations, many that can directly be applied to what colleges are doing today in terms of professional development offerings, internship placement, curriculum design, and more:

1. Professors need to become more engaged with students.

The survey found that if graduates recalled having a professor who cared about them as a person, they were more excited about learning and were encouraged to pursue their dream, more than doubling their odds of being engaged at work, and increasing their life well-being.

However, only 14 percent of graduates strongly agree they were supported by professors who cared, who made them excited about learning, and who encouraged their dreams.

2. Help with internship placement and make curriculum relevant to the field.

If grads had an internship or job in college where they were able to apply what they were learning in the classroom, were actively involved in extracurricular activities, and worked on projects that took more than a semester to complete, their odds of being engaged at work doubled.

Yet, just six percent of grads strongly agree they had an internship or job that allowed them to apply what they were learning, worked on a long-term project, and were actively involved in extra-curricular activities.

Watch the panel discussion on the survey’s results:


Based off of these correlations, Gallup and Purdue suggest that not only colleges and universities, but employers, begin to think of the college experience differently.

For example, these questions are worth considering:

  • What should a student considering when trying to decide between an elite Ivy League school, a large public university, or a small private college?
  • When an employer is evaluating two recent graduates from different institutions, which educational background should distinguish one applicant over the other, and why?
  • What should colleges consider when setting internal strategies, designing new programs and curricula, deciding what performance measures faculty should be compensated for, and working to attract future students?

“The data in this study suggest that, as far as future worker engagement and well-being are concerned, the answers could lie as much in thinking about aspects that last longer than the selectivity of an institution or any of the traditional measures of college,” write Julie Ray and Stephanie Kafka for “Instead, the answers may lie in what students are doing in college and how they are experiencing it. Those elements—more than many others measured—have a profound relationship to a graduate’s life and career. Yet too few are experiencing them.”

Add your opinion to the discussion.