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New Insights into What Makes College “Worth It”

Alex Geer


Asked whether they value higher education above the high school level, 97 percent of Gallup/Strada survey respondents said yes. But when asked whether their education is relevant to their work and day-to-day life, only 26 percent of respondents agreed.

The Gallup and Strada Education Network May 2018 report, “From College to Life: Relevance and the Value of Higher Education,” points to two key factors that influence perceptions of the value of higher ed among 110,481 employed people who had taken at least some college courses.

Those two factors are whether the respondent’s college experience was relationship-rich and whether it included work-integrated learning. Brandon Busteed, Gallup’s executive director of education and workforce development, relayed more about the survey’s findings on two podcasts in June 2018: one hosted by SwampED, the other by Future U​

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Following are a few highlights from each.

The Importance of Measuring Student Experience

During the SwampED podcast, Busteed pointed out that higher edhas done little to measure true outcomes over the last 300 years. He laments that among the variables that do get measured, such as graduation rates, higher ed fails to measure things that matter to students or alumni, or the things they value most.



Busteed sees an opportunity for smaller, lesser-known colleges to become more competitive by making a point of offering relationship-rich and work-integrated experiences.

Busteed encourages higher ed institutions to start measuring whether students had a good experience, and that recommendation aligns with the findings of the Gallup/Strada study mentioned above.

According to the Gallup/Strada study, respondents who had the most positive perceptions of higher ed had experiences that added up to a “relationship-rich” experience and/or work-integrated education.

Components of a “relationship-rich” experience include having had a professor who knew the student’s name, feeling as if a professor cared about them as a person, or having a mentor while in college. Only 27 percent of the respondents said they had experienced this.

How “Work-Integrated” Education Can Help

“Work-integrated” education refers to having had a job or internship where the student was able to apply what they were learning in the classroom. Another experience that qualifies as “work-integrated” is having a long-term project that takes a semester or longer to complete. Only one-third of respondents said they had encountered this in college.

Busteed goes to on recommend to students that they take courses from professors who inspire them. He points out to institutions that many graduates of elite schools say they did not have either a professor who cared about them, or an internship. Yet, it doesn’t really cost more to create a culture of caring on campus. Therefore, he sees an opportunity for smaller, lesser-known colleges to become more competitive by making a point of offering relationship-rich and work-integrated experiences.

He encourages colleges to incent faculty to do more in this area. Busteed recommends creating places on campus that encourage organic interaction between students and faculty outside of class. These may involve comfortable workspaces near high-traffic areas or a professor’s office so that when students drop by during a faculty member’s office hours, there is more opportunity for interaction.

He also pointed out that when faculty talked to a student about their career hopes, the relevancy scores increased.

Ready to cultivate a culture of rich student experience? Collegis can help​.

Alex Geer