New Purdue Poll Explores College Grad Well-Being

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May 7, 2014 — Results from a new poll and partnership between Purdue University show how career success may not depend on whether the college you attend is public or private.

Gallup, in partnership with Purdue University and Lumina Foundation, released results Tuesday from the inaugural Gallup-Purdue Index that finds there is no difference in workplace engagement or a college graduate’s well-being if they attended a public or private not-for-profit institution, a highly selective institution, or a top 100-ranked school in U.S. News & World Report. The study found students who were closely engaged with faculty or participated in an internship-type program were more likely to be engaged at work and have high well-being. The study also outlines a relationship between the level of student debt and a graduate’s well-being and entrepreneurial experience.

This comprehensive, nationally representative study of more than 30,000 U.S. college graduates with Internet access will be released annually for the next five years and is based on Gallup’s decades of research experience in employee engagement and well-being An engaged individual is involved in and enthusiastic about their work, is loyal, and productive. Those who are thriving are strong, consistent and progressing. The Gallup-Purdue Index is not a new ranking or rating system but a response to the call for increased accountability in higher education. This study is the first of its kind and will serve as a national benchmark.

The study found that 39% of U.S. graduates are engaged at work without distinction between public vs. private not-for-profit colleges, but there was a substantial difference between graduates of for-profit institutions and the rest. While most graduates are thriving in one or more key dimensions of well-being – purpose, social, financial, community, and physical – 11% are thriving in all five categories.

Graduates who had at least one professor who made them excited about learning, cared about them as a person, and was a mentor, have more than double the odds of being engaged at work and being thriving in well-being. Only 14% of graduates strongly agreed with all three of these questions.

Three times fewer graduates who took out between $20,000 and $40,000 in undergraduate student loan debt are thriving in their well-being compared with those with no school loan debt. Twenty-six percent of graduates with no debt have started their own business, compared with 16% for those with $40,000 or more.

“It turns out that student debt hinders our national economy just as it hinders the individual life prospects of students who borrow too much of it,” according to Purdue President Mitch Daniels. “It is past time for leaders in higher education to go to work on restraining costs and making sure that our doors remain open to all students who meet our standards.”

“The Gallup-Purdue Index makes it clear that how students are engaged in learning is essential to meeting their individual needs and those of the country,” said Jamie Merisotis, president and CEO of Lumina Foundation. “The type of college or university a person attends and the institution’s “ranking” is less relevant at a time when the nation’s need for talent puts students’ life and work outcomes at the heart of the learning enterprise.”

Graduates who had experiential and deep learning such as a job/internship, long-term school project, and were extremely involved in extra-curricular activities and organizations, had double the odds of being engaged at work and slightly more are thriving. Graduates who finished their degrees in four years, double their odds of being engaged. Only 6% of graduates strongly agree they had a meaningful internship or job, worked on a long-term project, and were actively involved in extra-curricular activities.

“Making connections between classroom learning and real life applications of that learning is key in preparing college graduates for that great job,” says John H. Pryor, senior research scientist for Gallup and lead researcher for the Gallup-Purdue Index. “There is a need to increase the exposure college students have with experiences that enrich their academic learning by making internships and partnerships with faculty and industry and organizations available to all students.”

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