One question I’ve received most often in recent months as I’ve spoken to thousands of teenagers, their parents, and college counselors through virtual events at high schools across the country goes something like this: You’re encouraging us to look for colleges outside the top-ranked schools, but what should we be looking for?
Big picture: Rising tuition and stagnant wages since the Great Recession in 2008 means families are increasingly calculating the return on investment of a degree from a specific college.
Yes, but: Thinking about the ROI of a degree only through the lens of the outcome—read: job and salary—misses what happens in the intervening years. In other words, what is the value of the residential learning experience between arriving on a campus and graduation? That’s the essence of the question I’m hearing from parents these days—how do we figure out which colleges deliver the best student experience, both inside and outside the classroom?
What’s next: The value equation that was established partly by the Great Recession is evolving because of another disruptive event—the pandemic.
- Parents with their college kids at home learning remotely are seeing for the first time what happens in the classroom—at least through Zoom—and for the most part they don’t like what they’re paying for.
- It’s not just the classroom experience. From a distance, parents are also seeing their children navigate the “silos” of higher ed, going to multiple offices on campus (or in this case calling or emailing them) to ask for help, repeating their story over and over again.
The bottom line: When I ask college graduates what remains with them long after they leave campus, I always hear about people. We all tend to forget what we learned in a politics or philosophy class, but we remember a professor, a coach, an adviser.
- The Gallup-Purdue Index, which has surveyed some tens of thousands of bachelor’s degree and associate’s degree holders nationwide, found that their well-being in life after college has less to do with where they went to school and more with what they did while they were there.
- The survey found that “six key experiences” double a graduates’ odds of being engaged in their work and thriving in their overall wellbeing throughout their lifetime.
- The six experiences included things such as professors who cared about them as a person, projects that took a semester or more to complete, and an internship or job that applied learning in the real world.
- Having a mentor in college who encouraged students to pursue their “goals and dreams” was found to be the strongest predictor of well-being out of anything that Gallup asked about.
- But here’s the problem: only 14% of graduates recalled having a professor who made them excited about learning and encouraged them.
When you’re looking for college, how do you know a campus has that secret sauce?
Last month, a professor at Lehigh University posted this Twitter thread
after his final seminar with a group of seniors. Here’s a key piece of it: