Diversity, Mentors Lead to Satisfaction Among Graduates, Poll Shows

In its second annual survey of college graduates, the Gallup-Purdue Index finds that only half of respondents “strongly agree” that their college education was worth the cost.

However, students who said that they had regular interaction with people from different backgrounds were more than twice as likely to say their education was worth the price.

The index — developed in collaboration by the Gallup Organization, Purdue University, and the Lumina Foundation — is a yearly study of more than 30,000 college graduates; it is aimed at identifying institutions’ impact on the life and work happiness of alumni, years and decades after graduation. It serves as an alternative to other college rating systems that focus on job placement and salary.

The questions about diversity and whether college is “worth it” were introduced on this year’s questionnaire. Other questions were designed to measure graduates’ engagement at work and their reported satisfaction in five areas: relationships, physical health, community, economic situation, and sense of purpose.

Overall, 50 percent of graduates said they “strongly agree” that college was worth the cost, but of those who graduated between 2006 and 2015, only 38 percent strongly agreed.

That percentage dips to 33 for those who took out any amount of student loans, and the survey shows that satisfaction was tied to the amount of money borrowed. Only 18 percent of graduates who borrowed more than $50,000 — about 15 percent of all respondents — strongly agreed that college was worth the investment.

Anya Kamenetz, writing for NPR, pointed out that individuals with a college degree earn higher salaries and have a lower unemployment rate than people who did not graduate from college — which, she says, means their student loans will be repaid many times over.

“Why the negative reviews?” she wrote. “Maybe these newer grads are still feeling the impact of the recession on their early careers, maybe they’ve absorbed the gloom-and-doom media messages, or maybe they are too callow to appreciate the long-term benefits conferred by that degree.”

However, the survey offers a positive conclusion and reiterated the results of last year’s poll, that where graduates attended college mattered less than how they spent their time while there. Students who took part in hands-on learning or long-term projects, who developed bonds with professors, and who were engaged in extracurricular activities reported much higher levels of satisfaction years after graduating.

“Students get out what they put in, and they can get an excellent education at a wide variety of institutions across the country,” Purdue President Mitch Daniels said in a statement. “As the study shows, their experience is determined much more by the relationships they build with mentors and the success they are able to achieve via their work on campus or abroad.”