NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

How to Measure College Success?

May 9, 2014

A new survey on college education uses unique measurements of graduate success, says Daniel Lautzenheiser, Program Manager on Education Policy at the American Enterprise Institute.

Studies assessing college outcomes generally focus on graduation rates, student learning, and labor market outcomes, though these measurements each have their own problems: graduation rates do not necessarily reflect student learning, research quantifying student learning is difficult to find, and labor market outcomes are generally the product of inaccurate alumni surveys with poor response rates.

Despite their shortcomings, these measures are important, Lautzenheiser writes. However, what about other factors, such as a college graduate's job satisfaction? A new report from Gallup and Purdue University attempts to measure aspects of the college experience that few studies have focused on: workplace engagement, graduate well-being, and emotional support, for example.

In a survey of more than 30,000 college graduates across the nation, the Gallup report found:

  • 39 percent of college graduates that are employed full-time feel engaged in their jobs. 49 percent do not feel engaged in their work, and 12 percent are "actively disengaged."
  • More graduates who majored in science or business were employed full-time than those who studied social science or arts and humanities. However, those who studied social sciences or arts and humanities were more likely to feel engaged in their jobs.
  • School type -- whether public, private, selective, or non-selective -- did not affect workplace engagement.
  • Students who felt emotionally supported during college (having a professor that made the student excited to learn, having a professor who cared about the student, and having a mentor that encouraged the student to pursue his goals) or who had "deep learning" experiences (defined as active extracurricular activity involvement, completing a semester-long project, and having an internship) were more than twice as likely to feel engaged in their current work.
  • However, only 14 percent of graduates experienced all three types of emotional support, and only 6 percent had the "deep learning" experiences.

Source: Daniel Lautzenheiser, "Knowledge, jobs, or happiness: What is the point of college?" American Enterprise Institute, May 6, 2014; "The 2014 Gallup-Purdue Index Report," Gallup, May 6, 2014.


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