The 6 college experiences linked to lifelong success

Daily Briefing

The 6 college experiences linked to lifelong success

Six college experiences in particular hold the most influence over time-to-degree and post-graduation success, according to 2015 research by the Gallup-Purdue Index, a research effort among GallupPurdue University, and the Lumina Foundation.

For the report, researchers examined results of a web survey completed by a nationally representative random sample of 29,560 respondents who had internet access, were at least 18, and hold bachelor’s degrees. They measured how engaged respondents were in their work, as well as their community, physical, financial, and social well-being.

Researchers found that six elements of the undergraduate experience had a significant effect on a student’s post-graduation success:

1. A professor who made them excited to learn;
2. A professor who cared about them as individuals;
3. A mentor who pushed students to reach their goals;
4. Working on a long-term project;
5. Completing a job or internship related to classroom lessons;
6. Being engaged in extracurricular activities and groups.

Just 3% of students said they “strongly agree” they had all six experiences. And among graduates who strongly agree their schools prepared them well for life, 82% reported experiencing all big six, compared with just 5% who say they experienced none. Researchers also found that the six experiences are connected to time-to-completion: 75% of graduates who “strongly agreed” they experienced all six finished their degrees in four years—while that rate fell to just 61% for respondents who reported experiencing none. Here’s what colleges are doing to connect students with mentors, faculty, and other related experiences.

Making classes more engaging

Purdue University‘s Impact program teaches faculty how to create more active and engaged classrooms. Across 13 weeks, program participants learn from technology and curricular-design experts, study research on effective learning, share experiences, and test out new teaching tactics.

Since it began in 2011, the program has trained more than 300 faculty members and has redesigned an estimated 528 courses. According to an outside review, students in Impact-affected courses earn higher final grades, report greater satisfaction, and have lower DFW rates.

And at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), the Center for Teaching and Learning gamified faculty development to boost participation in teaching workshops. Scott Phillips, the center’s director, designed a system to let faculty members earn points and badges for attending workshops. Each workshop counts as 10,000 points; faculty who accumulate 100,000 points earn a certificate.

Since UAB started this program, faculty attendance to teaching workshops has nearly quadrupled, from 98 in fall 2015 to almost 400 this past spring. According to the latest round of teaching evaluations, the program seems to be improving the teaching quality. “This is more than just stickers and badges,” Phillips says. “They’re actually becoming better teachers. And that’s really our ultimate goal.”

Connecting students with support networks

Research has found that students tend to look for mentors whose backgrounds resemble their own. But for first-generation and minority students, finding a mentor who resembles them can be a challenge. Among students who say they have a mentor, 72% of white students said their mentor is a professor, compared with just 61% of first-gen students and just 47% of minority students, according to a 2018 survey.

To address the issue, the University of California, San Diego‘s mentorship program connects first-gen students with peer and professional “coaches,” and it has led to increased student satisfaction among those participating. And Ivy Tech Community College pairs low-income students with remote coaches during their first year on campus, raising retention rates 10 percentage points over a three-year period.

The University of Maryland, Baltimore County‘s (UMBC) Meyerhoff Scholars Program pairs students with local industry mentors and advisors to help with academic planning and social support. In an effort to increase diversity in STEM, the program has helped UMBC send more black undergraduate student to M.D.-Ph.D. programs than any other college in the United States (Busteed, Gallup, 4/8/15; Seymour/Lopez; Gallup, 4/8/15; Chronicle of Higher Education, 10/21/18; Nietzel, Forbes, 12/4/18).