(The author is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are
By Liz Weston
LOS ANGELES May 12The first large-scale study
of college graduates' success in life using measures other than
salary reached some potentially revolutionary conclusions.
It also changed how at least one of the researchers plans to
look for future schools for his own children, now ages 3 and 5.
"I have a different way of evaluating colleges now," said
Brandon Busteed, executive director for Gallup's education
division, which along with Purdue University conducted the poll
of 30,000 graduates. "It's not whether the school is private or
public or selective or expensive - that doesn't matter."
The Gallup-Purdue Index found that elite schools fared no
better than less selective private and public schools in
ensuring graduates' well-being. The factors that do matter -
feeling supported by a professor or mentor and having deep
learning experiences - are, at least to some extent, factors
that families can search for and control, Busteed said.
"In many ways, it's a very encouraging study for most of
America," he said. "It doesn't really matter where you go. It
matters how you do it."
The Gallup-Purdue Index builds on three decades' worth of
Gallup research on the links between worker happiness,
engagement and productivity. Engagement means workers enjoy what
they do and feel emotionally and intellectually connected to
their jobs. Companies have used the research to boost worker
engagement in measurable ways and dramatically reduce costs,
"The biggest misperception is that (workplace engagement and
well being) are soft, fluffy measures," Busteed said. "We've
shown they are predictive of productivity, of profits and of
Busteed called the factors that predict future well-being
for graduates "the new college six-pack." Graduates who strongly
agreed with any of the following statements were roughly twice
as likely to feel engaged at work:
* I had at least one professor who made me excited about
* My professors cared about me as a person.
* I had a mentor who encouraged me to pursue my goals and
* I worked on a project that took a semester or more to
* I had an internship or job that allowed me to apply what I
was learning in the classroom.
* I was extremely active in extracurricular activities and
organizations while attending college.
"Any one of them by itself will move the needle," Busteed
said. "These six are the game changers."
The more statements that prompted strong agreement, the more
likely the graduate felt engaged. Only 3 percent of graduates
agreed strongly with all six statements.
Overall, 39 percent of the college graduates polled felt
engaged at work. Just 11 percent said they were thriving in five
areas related to well-being: purpose (liking what they do),
social (friendships and love), community (liking where they
live), financial (building financial security and not anxious
about money), and physical (being in near-perfect health).
Thriving in all five areas "is a very high bar," Busteed
said, but a significant number reported struggling in all areas.
"What was more shocking to me was that one in six aren't
thriving in a single dimension," he said. "You think that might
be true of the general population, but these are college
All this indicates colleges have a long way to go to achieve
their often-stated goals of improving graduates' lives in ways
other than simply boosting their lifetime income, Busteed said.
"When college is done right, it can have a profound effect
on people's lives and careers," he said. "It's just not being
done right for enough people. ... There is plenty of room for
improvement in delivering on their mission statements."
Families don't have to wait for colleges to act to increase
their own students' odds of future success, Busteed said. A
campus visit can show whether professors regularly interact with
students or if they're only to be found in their offices and
laboratories. Talking to several students should help families
discover if there are a lot of great teachers, or just a few,
and how hard or easy it is to access them.
The admissions office should be able to detail available
extracurricular activities and whether the school helps students
Once in school, students can take charge of their experience
by finding long-term projects and internships, even without the
college's help, he said. Most importantly, students can seek out
the great teachers and take their courses -- even if they're in
"Those teachers have reputations (for caring about and
mentoring students). The students talk about them," Busteed
said. "Select the teacher, not the course."
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Editing by Beth Pinsker and Leslie Adler)