Is College Worth It? That Depends

Brandon Busteed:

A college degree is something Americans have always valued. Even Americans without a college degree believe that education beyond high school is important. But recent Gallup research indicates that 25% of all college graduates in the U.S. fail to thrive in their overall careers and lives. Gallup has found six elements of emotional support and experiential learning in college that are correlated with long-term career and life success, and one-quarter of college graduates — who otherwise met the academic standards to get a diploma — missed out on all six of these critical elements. These graduates’ outcomes — compared with those who hit all six — are so drastically worse off that it calls into question the value of their collegiate experience.

The Gallup-Purdue Index — a massive study of 30,000 college graduates in the U.S. — measured the degree to which graduates were engaged in their work and thriving in their purpose, social, financial, community and physical well-being. These measures of workplace engagement and well-being are important because they are predictive of critical outcomes such as worker productivity, absenteeism and healthcare cost burden, among many others. Beyond simply measuring graduates’ earnings — an important but very narrow measure of success — Gallup looked at the whole picture. Using these broader and arguably more important outcome measures, Gallup has found that simply getting a degree is not enough.