Students who find their higher-ed studies relevant to their current roles in the workforce tend to believe they received a high-quality education that was worth the cost, according to a new Strada Education and Gallup study examining perceived quality and value of higher education.
Relevance has emerged as a key issue in both K-12 and higher education, with students more engaged in and satisfied with their education when they know their classroom lessons are directly related to the world around them.
The report is the first in a three-part series, “From College to Life: Relevance and the Value of Higher Education,” and examines perspectives from a nationally representative sample of 78,091 adults, ages 18 to 65, who are currently employed and have taken at least some college courses. Findings come from the daily Strada-Gallup Education Consumer Survey.
The report builds on previous Strada-Gallup research signaling the importance of relevance in higher-ed learning. For instance, consumers say “job and career outcomes” are the main reason they enrolled in higher education, more than doubling mentions of any other motivation.
The most valued advice when it comes to choosing an educational path and field of study comes from work-based sources. Confidence in finding a job and succeeding in the workplace are significantly higher motivations among those who have had faculty or staff members speak with them directly about their career aspirations.
Two key questions from the daily survey asked participants to rate the relevance of their courses:
1. You learned important skills during your college courses that you use in your day-to-day life.
2. The courses you took are directly relevant to what you do at work.
1. Relevance influences value and quality. The more relevant that people find their courses to be in their work and daily lives, the greater their belief that they received a high-quality education and that it was worth the cost. This pattern holds true for individuals across all walks of life. In fact, consumers who strongly agree their courses are relevant to their careers and lives are:
• 63 percentage points more likely to strongly agree their education was worth the cost.
• 50 percentage points more likely to strongly agree they received a high-quality education.
2. Relevance is related to well-being. Consumers who strongly agree their courses are relevant to their current careers and lives are 18 percentage points more likely to be “thriving” in their overall sense of well-being.
“These implications for the importance of relevance are powerful as they demonstrate another dimension of value that higher education provides to individuals, communities and our nation,” according to the report. “This is vital during a time when many in higher education are challenged to demonstrate their value in ways that resonate with all stakeholders.”
3. Relevance is a far more powerful predictor of consumer ratings of educational quality and cost value than other important demographic characteristics. This includes gender, race/ethnicity, age, income, and type of postsecondary education experience (courses but no degree, or two-year, four-year, post-graduate, or professional degrees).
4. Relevance explains two and three times more variance in consumer ratings of quality and value, respectively, than public data widely used to create college and university rankings. Relevance scores are more powerful predictors of consumer satisfaction than average SAT/ACT math scores, student loan default rates, average cost of attendance, a measure of alumni income earnings, and graduation rates.
Part two in the report series will examine the predictive power of relevance across the spectrum of individual pathways, fields of study, occupations, and experiences. Part three will engage leaders in the field to identify implications and solutions that will allow us to meet education consumers where they are and deliver high-quality, high-value, and life outcomes.
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