I’ve just been reading the Gallup-Purdue Index 2015 Report, which analyzes a survey of about 30,000 college graduates to figure out whether they felt college was worth the cost, and what college experiences lead to higher satisfaction. Here are a few highlights:
- Recent graduates who strongly agree with any of three items measuring supportive relationships with professors or mentors are almost twice as likely to strongly agree that their education was worth the cost. These relationships hold even when controlling for personality characteristics and other variables such as student loan debt and employment status that could also be related to graduates’ perceptions that college was worth it.
- If recent graduates strongly agree that they had any of three experiential learning opportunities—an internship related to their studies, active involvement in extracurricular activities or a project that took a semester or more to complete—their odds that they strongly agree that their education was worth the cost increase by 1.5 times.
- However, whether recent graduates participated in a research project with a professor or faculty member is unrelated to their opinion that their education was worth the investment. This finding suggests that it is important to assess the quality of faculty members’ interactions with students—and the benefits students derived from them—rather than simply tracking participation in such projects.
I found the third point above particularly worrisome, as we don’t have ways for really checking the quality of the interactions in things like thesis projects—we count on the goodwill of the faculty involved to make the experience a good one. We are also short on internships, though most of the BSoE majors now have multi-quarter projects for the capstones.
The “three items measuring supportive relationships with professors” were
- My professors at [University Name] cared about me as a person
- I had a mentor who encouraged me to pursue my goals.
- I had at least one professor at [University Name] who made me excited about learning.
The first and third of those are hard to do anything about institutionally, and even on an individual level there is no general way to be successful, but we could be doing more about mentoring. One suggestion they had that may be worth following up:
… programs such as those that recruit alumni as mentors do not need to be costly, but they can make a powerful difference in more effectively engaging both students and alumni.
They did note that modest amounts of debt (up to about $25,000) did not seem to reduce alumni satisfaction, but larger amounts of debt seriously reduced whether alumni thought their college experience was worth the price. There wasn’t much difference between public and private, non-profit colleges, but the for-profit colleges were much less appreciated by alumni. Also in-state or out-of-state public university did not seem to result in different distributions of satisfaction with the value of the education (despite the fairly large difference in price), and research universities followed the same distribution as public and non-profit private colleges. Only the for-profits stood out as distinctly different (possibly related to the high debt load—I didn’t see an analysis of the for-profits that controlled for debt—maybe there were too few low-debt students at the for-profits to be statistically significant).