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Welcome to the Exit Era of Higher Education
Gallup Blog

Welcome to the Exit Era of Higher Education

by Brandon Busteed
Chart: data points are described in article

Historians of higher education may one day come to describe recent decades as the "Entrance Era" of higher education. It's been an era defined by a near-obsession with getting into college -- and particularly, the "best" colleges. Entire industries have built up around this: test-prep companies, private college admissions advisers, college rankings and enrollment management companies, to name just a few. Colleges and universities also have built large marketing and admissions functions. All of these activities are based on the assumption that for a significant group of high school students and their parents, one of the defining elements of success in life is getting into college -- and in most cases, ideally, a top-ranked institution.

But findings from the Gallup-Purdue Index 2016 report released today suggest that a new era is on the horizon: the "Exit Era" of higher education, in which the ultimate accomplishment will be the successful transition from college to life outside of college.

In the third year of the Gallup-Purdue Index, the largest representative study of college graduates in the U.S., Gallup asked graduates whether they visited their career services office during their undergraduate experience -- and, if so, whether they found it helpful. About half (52%) of all U.S. college graduates say they visited career services. Among recent graduates -- those who obtained their degree between 2010 and 2016 -- this figure increases to 61%. However, given that 86% of incoming freshmen say that getting a better job represents a critical factor in their decision to enroll in college, it is a bit surprising that only 61% of recent grads report visiting the career services office.

Simply visiting career services, though, is not enough to get a good job. What matters is whether graduates had a high-quality experience with career services. Those who visited the career services office are no more likely than those who did not to say they had a good job awaiting them upon graduation -- 31% vs. 34%, respectively. But for those who visited career services and rated it as "very helpful," a significantly higher percentage (49%) report they had a good job awaiting them upon graduation.

Additionally, compared with graduates who say their career services office was "not at all helpful," those who say career services was very helpful are:

  • 5.8 times more likely to say their university prepared them well for life outside of college
  • 3.4 times more likely to recommend their alma mater to others
  • nearly three times more likely to say their education was worth the cost
  • 2.6 times more likely to have donated to their alma mater in the past 12 months

Unfortunately, very few graduates have high-quality career services experiences. Among those who visited their career services office at least once during their undergraduate experience, 16% say the office was very helpful -- the same percentage as those who say it was not at all helpful. If you consider that only about half of college graduates even visited career services, this translates to a mere 8% of all college graduates leaving with a high-quality career services experience. This will no longer be acceptable for higher education institutions in this new Exit Era.

The future may bring days when career services is no longer a place that students "might" visit during college or wait to visit until their last year in school. And a day may come when admissions and enrollment management staffing and budgets no longer dwarf those of career services.

Gallup's greatest insight in our 80+ years of global research is that what the whole world wants most is a good job. It's the top desire of prospective and current college students and their parents. And it's the top will of the world. I believe it is time for career services (and its mission of getting students good jobs) to be fundamental to the mission of all colleges and universities -- and intimately woven into the entire college experience. It's time to transition to the Exit Era of higher education.

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