Personal Finance

College graduate poll looks beyond salary at happiness in life and work

A new study tracking nearly 30,000 college graduates finds it’s how a person uses time in college, not the type of school attended, that will have an impact on the quality of a lifetime of work and personal wellbeing.

The survey by Gallup and Purdue University also showed that Americans have a long way to go to make better use of their college years.

There have been few large-scale studies of college graduates, and most of them look at salaries, said Brandon Busteed, Gallup’s executive director of education. The Gallup and Purdue study was unique for taking a broad look across the country at other aspects of the quality of life, he said.

The survey found no difference in workplace and life outcomes between people who went to public and private schools or highly selective schools and the rest. There was one exception, however: Those who attended for-profit institutions fared less well on both personal and employment measures.

The survey asked respondents about five aspects of personal life: Whether they liked what they did every day; felt safe and liked where they lived; were healthy and had enough energy; had support and love; and could manage their income and expenses in order to reduce stress and increase a sense of security.

The survey found only 11 percent said they were doing well in all five, and more than one in six were not thriving in any.

It also measured what Gallup called “workplace engagement,” a predictor of job performance. The report on the survey said workplace engagement includes “being intellectually and emotionally connected with their organizations and work teams because they are able to do what they’re best at, they like what they do at work, and they have someone who care about their development at work.”

The survey found 39 percent of college graduates are “engaged at work.”

The study also found that those who had a professor who cared about them as a person, a professor who made them excited about learning and a mentor who encouraged them, the odds of being engaged at work doubled, and the chance of thriving in personal wellbeing tripled. But only 14 percent of respondents said they’d had all three.

It also asked whether those surveyed had had internships or jobs that allowed them to apply what they learned in the classroom, had been involved in extracurricular activities, and had worked on a project that took a semester or more to complete. Only 6 percent said they’d done all three.

And only 3 percent said their college experience included all six of these categories about support and experience.

“When college is done right it has a profound impact on your life and career,” Busteed said. “But that’s not happening for most college graduates.”