Getting the Most Out of College

atkins-bookshelf-educationIn May 2014, Purdue University in partnership with Gallup and the Lumina Foundation published the Gallup-Purdue Index (GPI), titled “Great Jobs, Great Lives,” the largest representative study of college graduates in American history. The GPI surveyed more than 30,000 college graduates to measure “the most important outcomes of higher education… and provide higher education leaders with productive insights for meaningful performance improvements.” The results provide hope for students and parents alike, who have seen the cost of higher education spiral upwards, placing so many prominent colleges completely out of financial reach. Mitch Daniels, President of Purdue University shares the good news: “Our survey clearly indicated that it wasn’t so much where you go to college as much as how you go to college — what you extract from the campus experience.” For the 21 million students from the U.S. who applied to college in 2014 — and did not get into Stanford or Harvard — you take great comfort in knowing that you can actually get a great college education, have a rewarding career, and lead a happy, productive life.

An analysis completed on April 8, 2015 indicated that there are six key factors that correlated to performing dramatically better on every measure of long-term success and graduating on time (and therefore, on budget). The findings were consistent regardless of the differences among four-year colleges: public vs. private, large vs. small, and highly selective vs. less selective. The six experiences, referred to in the study as the “Big Six,” significantly enhance the college experience and lead to engaged individuals (an individual that is involved in and enthusiastic about his or her work and is loyal and productive) who thrive in well-being (as measured in five dimensions: purpose, social, financial, community, and physical). The six most important college experiences are:

1. Having at least one professor who made them excited about learning
2. Feeling professors cared about them as a person
3. Having a mentor who encouraged them to pursue goals and dreams
4. Working on a project that took a semester or more to complete
5. Having an internship or job that allowed them to apply what they were learning in the classroom
6. Being extremely active in extracurricular activities and organizations during college

John H. Pryor, lead researcher for the GPI underscores the importance of learning by doing by way of internships and collaboration with professors: “Making connections between classroom learning and real life applications of that learning is key in preparing college graduates for that great job. 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.”

The GPI also reported these notable findings:
• 3% of students reported having all six of these experiences.
• 63% of students reported having at least one college professor who made learning exciting.
• 25% of students feel they did not experience the Big Six experiences and fail to thrive in their lives and careers.
• Of the alumni who experienced only 3 out of the Big Six, 43% believed that college prepared them well for life after college.
• Graduates who had experiential and deep learning such as a job/internship, long-term school project, and were very 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.
• 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.
• 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.
• 26% of graduates without any student loan debt started their own businesses.
• 16% of graduates who took out student loans of more than $40,000 started their own businesses.

The message of the study is clear for college students: be proactive, get connected and involved, graduate in four years, and do not take on too much debt. So what can colleges learn from this study? Jamie Merisotis, president and CEO of Lumina Foundation, responds, “Knowing that on-time graduation rates are connected to six specific experiences, universities can focus on improving the student experience. Higher education institutions have a unique opportunity in their hands to positively influence the lives and careers of their future graduates while preparing them for the 21st century workforce.” Brandon Busteed, executive director of Gallup education adds: “If we are concerned about graduates’ feelings of preparedness for the real world, their engagement in their work, their overall well-being and their on-time graduation rates, then we ought to redesign what the requirements of graduation entail. If it’s merely course credits and exams—without any of the crucial emotional support and experiential learning—we fail. The good news is we have an idea of what the winning formula looks like. Now we need to help parents and students understand how to make the most of college, and redesign accreditation and higher education values, models, and reward systems accordingly.”

Read related posts: The College Admissions Mania
What Makes a Great Mentor?

What Makes a Great Teacher?
What Should you Teach Your kids Before They Leave Home?

Education Reform
Lifelong Learning with The Great Courses

Education or Indoctrination?
I Am What Libraries Have Made Me
Too Much Homework is Bad for Students

For further reading:

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