With decades of experience in public opinion polling and research, global management consulting giant Gallup Inc. has announced that it is launching a higher education survey project with Purdue University that is aimed at providing insight into how the college experience enables graduates to pursue life and career success.
This year, the project, known as the Gallup-Purdue Index, begins what will be the largest ever nationally representative study of college graduates, measuring the long-term pursuit of “great jobs” and “great lives” by graduates. The index is expected to deliver new insights to higher education leaders into how the educational experiences of their students can be improved. Funding support for the index has been made possible in part by a $2 million grant from the Indianapolis-based Lumina Foundation.
“Beginning in 2014, the new Gallup-Purdue Index will measure not only material success, asking college graduates such things as: Are you employed? How much do you earn? It will also measure those critical qualities that Gallup finds employers truly value and are predictive of work success: a person’s workplace engagement and well-being,” wrote Gallup CEO and chairman Jim Clifton and Purdue University president Mitch Daniels last month in the Wall Street Journal.
Among the specific study measures, the Gallup-Purdue Index will reveal how college graduates are faring on five dimensions of well-being. Those dimensions are purpose, social, physical, financial and community. The index will also measure workplace engagement, which includes information such as whether survey takers like what they do, do what they’re best at and have someone who cares about their development. The national benchmark study will survey 30,000 college graduates this coming spring.
Gallup and Purdue officials say their collaboration breaks new ground among the various college accountability and measurement projects that have emerged in recent years as American higher education has fallen under heightened scrutiny by political leaders, business executives, news media, education advocates and the general public. Along with the national effort that began with the Obama administration’s push in 2009 to boost American higher education productivity, a broad array of institutions, policymakers and advocates have promoted and implemented programs aimed at increasing degree completion and enhancing student readiness for the workforce.
“This is not a ranking,” said Brandon Busteed, executive director of Gallup Education. “We’re designing [the index] as a benchmark against which institutions can voluntarily choose to understand how their graduates are doing.” Busteed explained last month during a briefing on the new index that “there are a number of initiatives that are already under way and have been under way to try and measure colleges in different ways.”
The new index will provide statistically significant data about college graduates, which has yet to be measured on a national basis. “It’s actually true today that there’s not a single college or university in this country that can tell any of us from a research-based perspective whether their graduates have good jobs and good lives,” said Busteed. “The best that they have maybe is some employment data six months after graduation or they know how much money you have given to the university as an alumnus.”
Dr. Dale Whittaker, the vice provost for undergraduate academic affairs at Purdue University, said that a team of Purdue faculty and staff members will be working with Gallup’s data scientists and employees to develop the national survey for the index as well as a customized survey that will be administered to Purdue alumni.
“We will be using similar questions as the national [survey] but we will also be able to understand a little better what Purdue experiences may have led to those attributes of [graduate] success, wellness and satisfaction,” said Whittaker. “[The customized survey] will inform us about things at Purdue that work.”
Daniels, a former Indiana governor, has cited Gallup’s longtime history of researching employee attitudes about work as one of the reasons why Purdue was attracted to collaboration with the research organization. “They have 25 million interviews with workers and other populations that they have surveyed over the years. They’ve really learned a lot about what makes for success,” he told WIBC-TV this week.
Dr. Victor Borden, professor of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies at Indiana University, said the Gallup-Purdue Index appears to break new ground among current research initiatives that focus on higher education accountability. Borden is the lead researcher of the annual Diverse: Issues In Higher Education Top 100 lists, which track higher education degree production by minority students.
“[Research efforts] need to go beyond the very limited economic outcome measures that have been purported as the be-all, end-all outcomes that students make in terms of employment after college, particularly because that focus is on certain types of jobs being better than others because you make more money,” Borden said.
He noted that Purdue’s involvement can be largely attributed to Daniels. “Mitch Daniels is a very entrepreneurial and thoughtful leader who is trying to contribute in certain ways [given] his interesting background as a public politician and now a university president.”
Dr. Anthony Carnevale, the director and research professor at the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, applauded Gallup and Purdue for establishing a survey project that will attempt to fill a significant research gap on college graduates and their life outcomes.
“[Gallup and Purdue University officials are] probably the right people,” he said. “[Gallup has done] this for a very long time. For decades, they have done this in labor markets, asking people about their jobs.”
Carnevale believes the project will be watched nationally by higher education leaders and education advocates. Gallup has issued an open invitation to American colleges and universities to join the research collaborative as partner schools.
“The idea that you need to care about your students after they graduate is spreading gradually in higher education,” Carnevale said. “Higher education institutions, many of which have been interested in the UCLA surveys and the like on student engagement, have grown more interested in the issues of engagement once [their students are] gone.