Support and Experiences: The College Advantage

As a college counselor at a highly regarded academic institution, my students are consistently seeking for the best in collegiate education. However, the cultural pressure to attend a highly selective university often outweighs the benefits students may gain from other less notable possibilities. Frank Bruni has written recently in an Op-Ed about what is happening near me in Palo Alto in the shadows of Stanford, the most selective of universities.  My Christian school colleagues and I have consistently discussed how we educate and train our students so that they can explore options while making an informed, fiscally prudent, and a wise decision.

Gallup Research

This is why I was encouraged to see the emerging research about workplace engagement and well-being by Gallup in a recent study, “Life in College Matters for Life After College.” In the emerging research Gallup has found what they call the “Big Six” factors that have a long-term impact and have categorized them into two areas: Support and Experiences. Gallup states, “The study found that support and experiences in college had more of a relationship to long-term outcomes for these college graduates.  For example, if graduates recalled having a professor who cared about them as a person, made them excited about learning, and encouraged them to pursue their dreams, their odds of being engaged at work more than doubled, as did their odds of thriving in all aspects of their well-being. And if graduates had an internship or a job in college where they were able to apply what they were learning in the classroom, were actively involved in extracurricular activities and organizations, and worked on projects that took a semester or more to complete, their odds of being engaged at work doubled as well.”

I encourage you to read the research in greater detail, but in short Gallup categorizes the areas in the following way:

Support

  1. Students had one professor who excited them about learning.
  2. Students felt their professors cared about them.
  3. Students had a mentor who encouraged them to pursue their dreams and goals.

Experiences

  1. Students worked on a project that took a semester or more to complete.
  2. Students had a job or internship that allowed them to apply classroom learning.
  3. Student was extremely active in extracurricular activities and organizations.

This list to us, who value the education process as part of an ongoing discipleship process, shouldn’t be surprised by these findings; however, only 3% of the study’s respondents strongly agreed that they had all six elements in their collegiate experience.

Implications for Christian Education: Christian Schools and Christian Colleges
I recognize that educational research has its limitations, but I thought that this research was important for us in Christian education for a few reasons:

  1. This research seems to confirm what we have known in elementary and secondary education for a long time.  However, it is a good reminder that as Christian school leaders we should continue to create experiential learning opportunities for our students within the context of a supportive learning community.
  2. Christian high schools should prepare students for the best of opportunities as well as counsel them to choose institutions where they will be “known” and can be “active” in their education. In my role as a counselor, I must ask the necessary questions and help my students seek out the answers that will allow them to discover these places.
  3. As a product of two great Christian colleges, I would assume that most Christian colleges would claim that they do good work in the areas the research attempts to measure.  But after visiting over 100 colleges in the past four years, 25 of which were Christian colleges, I’m not quite sure they completely take advantage of what these could be as a distinctives. The research affirms this: “The study found that the type of schools these college graduates attended — public or private, small or large, very selective or less selective — hardly matters at all to their workplace engagement and current well-being.”

If we as supporters and proponents of Christian education from elementary all the way through higher education it is important for us to consistently use the emerging research to guide our efforts.  Likewise, it is always a benefit when the practical nature of the research fits with our theoretical framework for what we do.  Therefore, education as discipleship through supporting relationships and engaging experiences are what make Christian schools and college distinct, now focus on developing these areas knowing they promote future engagement and well-being for graduates.

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