Selective colleges no more likely to produce satisfied grads

BY Kyla Calvert  May 6, 2014 at 12:54 PM EST

Photo of 2012 Vassar College commencement by Paul Zimmerman/Getty Images.

Photo of 2012 Vassar College commencement by Paul Zimmerman/Getty Images.


How happy college graduates are in their workplaces and with their lives doesn’t depend on where they got their degree, according to a national survey out Tuesday from Gallup and Purdue University.

Instead of asking about annual earnings or net worth, The Gallup-Purdue Index Report asked 30,000 college graduates how engaged they are at work and how they’re faring in five areas of personal well-being. The idea, the report’s authors say, was to gauge whether colleges help their graduates live “great lives.”

Thirty-nine percent of college grads, who are employed full-time, reported feeling engaged at work. That number was roughly the same whether they went to a public or private, nonprofit university. Whether the school they attended was considered selective didn’t move the needle either. Meanwhile, only 29 percent of graduates of four-year private, for-profit schools feel engaged at work.

Things that do seem to matter for future workplace fulfillment include graduating in four years or less. Of those who took five and a half years or longer to complete their degrees, 34 percent reported work engagement compared to 40 percent of on-time degree completers. Feeling supported by professors on campus, working in an internships, participating in in-depth learning experiences and believing that college prepared them well for the workplace were all associated with higher levels of satisfaction at work.

Outside the workplace, nine in 10 graduates reported being happy with their lives. The survey asked about feelings of purpose, finances, social connections, community and physical well-being. Again, the type of school graduates attended seems not to matter, unless they went to a private, for-profit institution.

Similar to workplace engagement, grads’ likelihood of thriving, and the report puts it, in each of the five areas increased the more involved and supported they felt on campus. Their well-being also increased when they had less student debt.

Among graduates with no student loans, 14 percent were thriving in all five areas of well-being, compared to only two percent of those with $40,000 or more in debt. The Project on Student Debt reports that in 2013, 70 percent of graduating college students had borrowed to pay for college; they carried an average of $29,400 in debt.

PBS NewsHour coverage of higher education is supported by the Lumina Foundation and American Graduate: Let’s Make it Happen, a public media initiative made possible by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.