It’s not where you go to college, it’s what you do there

05/22/2014 3:30 PM

06/03/2014 10:17 AM

Not long ago, I attended a panel discussion aimed at engaging high school juniors and their parents in the college application process.

To jump-start the program, the moderator asked a question: How many parents had attended Ivy League or other top-tier private colleges? A few hands popped up. Then he asked how many had attended good old State U. That covered the majority of the audience.

Then to the entire group he asked for a show of hands from those who felt happy and successful in life. I don’t recall seeing any hands drop.

The point: Highly selective colleges don’t have greater chances of producing successful, productive and happy graduates than any other large or small school.

I thought about that simple, unscientific survey after scanning a far more comprehensive poll released earlier this month from the Gallup organization and Purdue University.

Titled “Great Jobs, Great Lives,” the poll was based on interviews this spring with about 30,000 college graduates in all 50 states. And guess what? It came to essentially the same conclusion as the moderator I listened to in the high school auditorium.

“Where graduates went to college — public or private, small or large, very selective or not selective — hardly matters at all to their current well-being and their work lives in comparison to their experiences in college,” the Gallup poll concluded.

According to the research, of greater and longer-lasting importance was taking a class from an inspiring and nurturing professor, landing an internship or job that made textbook material relatable, being involved in extracurricular activities and organizations, and working on projects that took a semester or more to complete.

In other words, the survey noted, it’s not where you go, it’s how and what you do when you get there.

It may be age-old advice, but that’s the takeaway to share with any high school student who may be thinking this summer about college applications, practice essays and campus visits.

Gallup and Purdue researchers created an index that examined the long-term success of college graduates as they pursued a good job and a better life. The index didn’t measure salary and job placements — the traditional way of keeping score. Rather it focused on workplace engagement — whether college graduates enjoyed what they did day in and day out at work and were intellectually and emotionally connected to their organization and career.

The poll found that just 39 percent of the college graduates surveyed felt “engaged” and “productive” at work. Eleven percent were said to be “thriving” in five aspects of their lives, such as financial stability and having a strong social network of friends and family.

These groups went to a variety of public and private colleges and universities, though mostly larger schools. There was also no difference in “employee engagement” by race or ethnicity, and as many graduates from the schools ranked in the top 100 by U.S. News & World Report acknowledged being engaged in their work as graduates from other institutions.

However, those who attended for-profit schools were less likely to be engaged or excelling in work.

The survey also noted that many of today’s college graduates who are burdened with debt can expect to be paying for their education for a long time.

And they make keep paying in many other ways. For example, the survey noted, high student loan debt may be inhibiting entrepreneurial activity.

To reach Steve Rosen, call 816-234-4879 or send email to


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