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The “Big Six” College Experiences That Increase the Odds That Graduates Will Be Engaged at Work

There is a lot of debate going on right now about the need for a college degree as a minimum requirement for entry-level positions. A recent article in The New England Journal of Higher Education written by Brandon Busteed, executive director of education and workforce development at Gallup, and Sean Seymour, Gallup Associate, raises an important question. It suggests that employers make assumptions about the value of a degree without accurately assessing the quality of graduates’ college experiences or how those experiences influence their preparation to be engaged, productive employees. 

Gallup research over the years has demonstrated that engaged employees are more productive. This article builds on that research by sharing findings from the Gallup-Purdue Index, a study of more than 30,000 college graduates. The data reveal connections between six college experiences and whether students become engaged in their work after college. Survey results show that only 3 percent of graduates experience all six circumstances, while 25 percent encountered none of them. Graduates who had all six experiences are three times more likely to be engaged in their work compared with graduates who did not have any of the six.

The “Big Six” experiences are:

  1. Had at least one professor who made them excited about learning. 63 percent of respondents indicated they had this experience.
  2. Had professors who cared about them as a person. 27% strongly agreed they had.
  3. Had a mentor who encouraged them to pursue their goals and dreams. 22% strongly agreed.
  4. Worked on a project that took a semester or more to complete. 32% strongly agreed.
  5. Had an internship or job that allowed them to apply what they were learning in the classroom. 29% strongly agreed.
  6. Were extremely active in extracurricular activities and organizations. 20% strongly agreed.

The authors argue that these experiences may help students develop a clearer sense of what they do best. They also may help them discern the qualities of an engaged workplace or a great manager and build graduates’ self-efficacy as they learn how to shape their work environment.

This research resonates with other information regarding student success. Another recent study by the Rockefeller Foundation states that the top metric for evaluating the success of entry-level employees is how well the employee fits with company culture. One may assume that having the “Big Six” experiences outlined in the Gallup study would also prepare graduates to understand company culture and whether or not there is a fit.

Is your institution making efforts to ensure students have the “big six” experiences?

George Covino