Measuring alumni well-being and engagement

By: | Issue: January, 2015
December 29, 2014

Ohio State, Arizona State, Creighton (Neb.), Bentley (Mass.), George Mason (Va.) and Purdue (Ind.) universities are among the first that have hired Gallup to survey their alumni to gather data on their graduates’ well-being and workplace engagement.

Findings will be measured against the Gallup-Purdue Index, which launched in May with the goal of creating national benchmarks for the long-term ROI of attending college. Gallup plans to gather data every year for the index and to release the results each May.

Brandon Busteed, executive director of education for Gallup Research, says the surveys will measure outcomes “closer to the mission of colleges, not just the earnings of graduates.” The institutions paid between $75,000 and $250,000 for this service, depending on school size and the scope of the survey and analysis.

The Gallup-Purdue index—conducted in partnership with Purdue and the Lumina Foundation—divides well-being into the categories of physical, financial, community, social and purpose. Workplace engagement, meanwhile, is measured in terms of “liking what you do, and doing what you’re best at,” Busteed says.

Overall, the study indicates, type of institution attended has less of an impact on workplace engagement than students’ experiences. “It’s a bit of a jolt if you believe a private, expensive, prestigious university leads to better outcomes,” says Busteed.

Graduates are almost twice as likely to feel engaged at work if they were extremely active in extracurriculars or completed a project that took a semester or more, according to the study. Graduates are also about twice as likely to express a sense of greater well-being if they had an encouraging mentor, at least one professor who made them excited about learning, and professors who cared about them as individuals while in college.

College affordability plays a critical role—graduates with $25,000 or more in student loan debt may feel less financial and physical security as well as experience a reduced sense of purpose for up to 25 years after they graduate, the research showed.

The index is not intended to create a ranking or rating system, but to identify areas for improvement, Busteed says.

“Universities would be smart to encourage students to take advantage of internship and experiential learning opportunities, and to have faculty asking students what their goals are,” he says.