Of course we want jobs for our students. That’s why faculty work hard to help them think clearly, make and defend an argument, speak and write cogency, and all the other good practical things that come from a liberal education.
But we want something more – a genuinely satisfying life. That may seem beyond reach but it turns out the key to it is close at hand. It is engagement, curricular and extra-curricular.
The importance of student engagement emerges with compelling clarity in the 2014 Purdue-Gallup Index Report, a study of more than 30,000 college graduates and their experience in the workplace. It’s not a pretty story but there is hope. This survey found that more than half of college graduates employed full time were either “actively disengaged” or “not engaged” in their work. That’s the bad news.
The good news is that those who as students had high level of intellectual and extra-curricular engagement were much more engaged in their work, and in community involvement and reported higher levels of satisfaction and well-being.
Even better news is that we now know how to achieve that engagement. One crucial factor is good mentoring; as the Purdue-Gallup report says “… if graduates had 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 … And if they worked on projects that took a semester or more to complete, their odds of being engaged at work doubled as well.”
This report is a discourse shifter, a game changer, maybe, certainly a powerful alternative to the jobs, jobs, jobs rhetoric that has dominated decision making in higher education in recent years. People who uses the tired old discourse should be routed to this report and asked what they expect from their employees and what they want for their children and grandchildren. The answer in one form or another is likely to include the word ”satisfaction,” maybe even in a sense of joy in one’s vocation.
Building student engagement is not a secret art, the arcana of few genius teachers. In recent years the data acquired from student surveys and other studies show that a relatively small number of practices have a high impact on student engagement. Using data from the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) George Kuh has identified ten practices that closely correlated with student academic engagement. The Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA), and Wabash College’s Center of Inquiry in the Liberal Arts also point to practices that produce strong results.
Stay tuned. I’ll put that material together in another blog post, soon. I promise. Soon. Real soon.