College-bound students put considerable thought into where they will go to school. Decisions depend on myriad criteria; field of study, location, whether he/she can get accepted and, of course, the cost.
One common belief is that the higher the tuition, the better the education. A new study suggests that the link between cost and benefit is not as strong as you might think.
Gallup teamed with Purdue University to survey more than 30,000 college graduates to determine the primary factors that contribute to a quality education that will lead to job satisfaction after graduation. The poll found, perhaps surprisingly, that going to the “best” school, which is often the most expensive, did not necessarily translate into success.
“Where graduates went to college—public or private, large or small, 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 report found.
Study authors concluded the secret to success is not where you go, it’s how you go to college. In all, the study authors determined six elements of the college experience that would lead to a satisfactory career, and the cost of school was not among them. Instead, the criteria for success are based more on interaction with professors and whether or not students took advantage of campus opportunities.
For example, the study shows graduates who reported that they had a professor who took a personal interest in them and encouraged them to pursue their dreams were twice as likely to have a fulfilling career. Also, students who participated in extracurricular activities, campus organizations and had internships were much more likely to be engaged at their current job than those who did not.
The study upends a lot of the traditional thinking on how higher education is delivered. What’s more important to a student getting good education: having a professor who has published extensively in his or her field or a professor with superior teaching skills? Can a student who takes full advantage of opportunities at a cheaper public institution have greater career satisfaction that a student who does the minimum at an Ivy League school?
“The answers to these questions are not simple enough to answer in one paragraph or report,” the study says. “The answers lie in thinking about things that are more lasting than selectivity of an institution or any of the traditional measures of college.”
What students are doing in college and how they are experiencing it “have a profound relationship to a person’s life and career.”
America’s egalitarianism is challenged by the country’s higher education system, which awards some schools “elite” status. Those elites tend to be far more expensive than the rest. For example, it costs about three times as much to go to the University of Pennsylvania than Penn State.
The average student now leaves college owing $29,000, and that debt is often higher for students who attend elite institutions. That debt, the study found, has an impact on the well-being of graduates.
“The higher the loan amount, the worse the well-being,” the report says. “Only four percent of graduates who owed between $20,000 and $40,000 are thriving in all areas,* compared with 14 percent who did not take out loans.”
Every year, hundreds of thousands of high school students are asked the same question: “Where are you going to college.” We should instead be asking these students, “how are you planning to go to college?”
*The study’s criteria for well-being is broken down into five areas: Purpose (what they do every day), Social (stable, healthy personal life), Financial (not worried about money), Community (living in their desired location), Physical (feeling active and productive).