Greetings from sunny Boiling Springs, North Carolina! It is final exam week at Gardner-Webb University and summer is nearly upon us. For the high school students and parents reading this blog, this means that the majority of college decisions have been made and most of you are ready to start counting down the weeks until your college experience officially begins.
With this reality in mind, I thought that a new Gallup poll released yesterday would be of particular interest to “On the Right Path” readers. The study, “Life in College Matters for Life After College”, revealed in statistical form some basic truths about the college experience that should be widely stated.
In the spring 2014 study conducted among some nearly 30,000 U.S. adults with at least a bachelor’s degree, results showed a strong correlation between the undergraduate college experience and both post-grad workplace engagement as well as overall well-being. Notably, the factors that correlate with a positive post-grad life experience relate directly to the more qualitative, human elements of college and much less to more superficial aspects of university life (e.g. admissions selectivity and name brand prestige).
In what can only be interpreted as a startling indictment of the American higher educational system, a paltry 27% of those surveyed strongly agreed with the statement, “My professors at [college] cared about me as a person.” Thus, it came as no surprise that an equally feeble 22% could agree strongly with the statement “I had a mentor who encouraged me to pursue my goals and dreams.”
In a world where “bigger” is continually branded as synonymous with “better”, this can almost assuredly be attributed to the continually less personalized feel germane to large state universities. As more and more teaching responsibility is delegated to inexperienced, overworked, underpaid graduate students and farmed out to massive online lecture halls, it should come as no great shock that students are feeling less and less connected to their instructors. Consider thus this stark reality: college is becoming more and more expensive across the board, yet the level of personal investment in success has likely never been lower. This inverse relationship is a reality that students should not be forced to accept.
The negative ripple effects of this unengaged college experience are felt for years after college, the study shows. The study found that graduates were more than twice as likely to agree to feeling “engaged at work” if they had a mentor in college who encouraged them to pursue their hopes and dreams. The study also found that students were nearly 2.5 times as likely to feel engaged at work if the college they attended was “passionate about the long-term success of its students.”
In an age where job satisfaction has never been more important, the study went on to demonstrate that participants were over 4.5 times as likely to “thrive in all areas of well-being” if they felt engaged at work. Thus, the conclusion is clear: if a student was inspired and felt supported during college, he or she is more likely to feel engaged in their career, and that same student in turn is much more likely to thrive in all areas of life, both in and outside of work.
While my personal bias is readily apparent, I fail to see how any truly impartial observer could view this study as anything other than a strong vindication of the approach to higher education employed by Gardner-Webb University and other similarly structured institutions. As questions continue daily as to the exact value of a college degree in today’s world and which model of education (public vs. private, narrow job training vs. liberal arts) is more credible, the results of this survey add to the mounting evidence that the small school, liberal arts model provides extremely tangible value to its graduates.
As an undergraduate student at GWU, I continually felt the tangible presence of people in my life who were personally invested in my success. From our President down through each member of our support staff, this student-centered focus continues today. The more successful our students are, the more successful Gardner-Webb is. And while other schools continue to focus on superfluous distractors, we never waver from the core belief that our mission is to invest in individual students and prepare them to enjoy uncanny success in the 21st century.
As I write these words, I cannot help but feel tremendous excitement for both the soon to be graduated class of 2014 and the incoming freshman class of 2018.
Until next time, be sure to remain firmly on the right path…