Phi Beta Cons

A New Tool for ‘Outcomes’?

Nearly two years ago, Gallup and Purdue University announced a new index to judge how alumni are doing and what role their college experience played in their success. It would measure “not merely the material success of our graduates, but also their readiness for increasing levels of leadership in their chosen fields, and their overall fulfillment in life.” 

I was a little skeptical. To what extent should a university get credit for “fulfillment in life”? In fact, I said, “there may be a bit of hokum in that metric but it’s not without relevance.” 

There may be more to it than I thought.

Gallup is conducting such a survey on a national basis, and the Chronicle of Higher Education just broke the story of its second year’s findings. The main point: only about half of all surveyed graduates “strongly agree” that their college experience was worth the cost. Recent graduates are even less positive, especially those who attended for-profit schools.

Reporter Goldie Blumenstyk also observes that about 40 colleges are using the Gallup-Purdue poll for their own alumni—and that’s what I found especially interesting. Gallup allows the single-college findings to be published, but only in their entirety, to avoid “cherry-picking” the data.

Among other things, the college surveys address “alumni attachment” (emotional connection with one’s alma mater). And they ask alumni if they remember particularly influential professors or projects.

Nationally, just about 20 percent of alumni surveyed feel emotional attachment to their school, but schools differ. At Arizona State University the number is 20 percent; at Virginia Tech, the figure is 42 percent.

I now see that this survey may offer colleges and universities a new benchmark—the percentage of alumni who are emotionally attached to their school, and, to some extent, why they have this attachment. Was it a research project? Apparently not, according to the national survey. Was it a mentor? Possibly.

Recently, I expressed the fear that most of the “student learning outcomes” that have been proposed will end up being about the same for most colleges. But this differentiates colleges and thus might be worth paying attention to. (I welcome comment. Could the emotional attachment stem simply from, say, parties and football games? I don’t think so, but it’s possible.)

Jane S. Shaw — Jane S. Shaw retired as president of the John W. Pope Center for Higher Education Policy in 2015. Before joining the Pope Center in 2006, Shaw spent 22 years in ...

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