The Power of Do: Acting on Gallup Data to Drive Graduate Success

Americans’ confidence in higher education as an industry fell 9 percentage points from 2015 to 2018. Mostly, the negative perceptions had to do with cost (too high) and preparation for jobs (too low).

For the past decade, Gallup Education has been analyzing its survey data to determine what matters most during the college experience in order for graduates to attain “great jobs and great lives.” As Stephanie Marken, Gallup’s executive director of education research, noted at last week’s Summer Seminar (co-hosted by Lawlor Advisory), it turns out that alumni who feel engaged at work are also more likely to feel their college degree was worth it.

The Gallup data points to six college experiences that are most influential in preparing students for life after college, because together they create a relationship-rich and work-integrated learning environment:

“At least one professor made me excited about learning.”

“Professors cared about me as a person.”

“A mentor encouraged my goals and dreams.”

“I did a long-term project taking a semester or more to complete.”

“I did an internship or job where I applied my learning.”

“I was extremely involved in extracurricular activities and organizations.”

While Marken has seen many colleges and universities take action to boost mentorship, she notes that by far the most movement has happened around internships. The Gallup data also indicate that alumni who rated their college’s career services as “very helpful” were more than twice as likely than those who didn’t visit their career services office to strongly agree they were prepared for life outside of college.

But leveraging career services to give students a relationship-rich and work-integrated learning environment is easier said than done.

“Figuring out how to implement the model suggested by Gallup data, at scale, is tricky,” said presenter Susan Brennan in the next session. Now the inaugural assistant dean of career development at MIT’s Sloan School of Management, Brennan served as associate vice president of university career services at Bentley University when it became ranked the #1 Career Services and #1 Internship Program in the country by the Princeton Review. Sharing her experience of putting Bentley on the map for delivering impactful career education and outcomes, she talked about how to turn what was once a transactional model into a transformative model.

“You need to have systemic integration built into the curriculum, community, and culture,” she explained. “It takes a collaborative ecosystem to understand that career is everywhere.” She advised thinking not only about what we want every student to have, but also what higher education experiences we can all deliver that really matter.

Brennan noted that when the entire campus culture is geared toward preparing students for the workplace of the future, the college can benefit too in terms of recruitment, retention, reputation, relevance, and ROI.