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Many Tennessee Grads Say College Prepared Them Well for Life

Many Tennessee Grads Say College Prepared Them Well for Life

by Cynthia English and Susan Sorenson

Nearly seven in 10 (68%) graduates of Tennessee colleges and universities either strongly agree or agree that their university prepared them well for life after college, according to a Gallup-Purdue Index study of college graduates. This is similar to the 64% of graduates from colleges across the U.S.

Tennessee graduates were more likely to be well-prepared if they had key experiential and support experiences while in college, such as professors who cared about them, a mentor who encouraged them to pursue their goals and dreams, and participating in an internship or job that allowed them to apply what they were learning in the classroom.


For prospective college students and their families, these types of state-level insights about key college outcomes are invaluable. With so much riding on their higher education choices, aspiring students need support to make better, more informed decisions and gain confidence that their investment in higher education will pay off in the pursuit of a good job and a better life.

This is why the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, American Institutes for Research (AIR) and Gallup are collaborating on a unique partnership called "Transforming Higher Education: Achieving Better Return on Investment and Employee Engagement," supported by USA Funds. This partnership will provide state-level information and practical guidance to help aspiring students know where their decisions might lead. The partnership seeks to provide data on higher education outcomes for prospective students, colleges and employers, first in Tennessee, and then later in Colorado, Minnesota and Texas.

"Students and families face a variety of options for postsecondary education, and this project will help provide them additional tools they need to make informed decisions," says Russ Deaton, interim executive director of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission. "The data and career insight provided by the career-focused College Planner are a valuable addition to the resources available to Tennesseans of all ages who are seeking individual betterment and greater economic opportunity."

A key objective for this project is to provide parents and students access to the information they need to make data-driven, focused decisions about higher education through a state-level College Planner, which will be available in 2016. The College Planner will include data on return on investment and employee engagement using both AIR's College Measures project and the Gallup-Purdue Index to help inform students and families as they consider higher education options.

College Measures, a project of AIR, works with U.S. states to identify the labor market success of postsecondary students after they complete their degrees or other credentials. The Gallup-Purdue Index study gauges graduates' long-term success as they pursue good jobs and better lives, with responses from 55,748 college graduates surveyed nationwide in 2014 and 2015.

Aspiring college students and their families invest a great deal of time and often money researching and weighing the costs and benefits of higher education. Beyond earnings, there are important questions to consider about the outcomes that make a college experience worthwhile.

"We want to know not only whether graduates make more money, but also whether they are more engaged in their work and are thriving in their overall well-being," says Gallup's Executive Director for Education and Workforce Development, Brandon Busteed. "These outcomes matter because Gallup research shows they link to greater productivity, less absenteeism, lower healthcare cost burden and increased revenue and profit for employers."

The first report from this project, "Bridging the Gap Between Higher Education and the Workplace: A Profile of Tennessee College Graduates," focuses on Gallup-Purdue Index results from 1,024 graduates who received a bachelor's degree from a Tennessee college or university between 1947 and 2014.

Some of the key findings from the report include:

  • Less than half (44%) of employed Tennessee graduates are engaged in their jobs, revealing an opportunity for the state's businesses to more fully engage their employees and reap the benefits from these efforts such as higher productivity and profitability.
  • Gallup measures well-being in five categories -- purpose, social, financial, community and physical -- to learn about how people think about and experience their lives. Although about half of Tennessee graduates report they are thriving on measures of purpose and social well-being (54% and 49%, respectively), more than one in five (22%) indicated that they were suffering in financial well-being.

By asking the right questions and reporting on the findings, the Transforming Higher Education project hopes to start conversations at the state and national levels to ensure that students are gaining the skills and experiences they need to have productive, thriving careers and lives.

"We are thrilled about this partnership and the information we will be able to provide students and their families to help prepare them for their future," says Catherine Glover, president and CEO of the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce and Industry. "Initiatives like this are vitally important to the business community and our efforts to ensure that students not only have access to information that will better prepare them for college, but also that they leave college with the skills so desperately needed in today's workforce."

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