From College to Life: Relevance and the Value of Higher Education

Posted by Strada Education Network on May 14, 2018

New Strada-Gallup Consumer Data Reveal Only 26 Percent of Working U.S. Adults With College Experience Strongly Agree Their Education is Relevant to Their Work and Day-To-Day Life

Industry experts explore the power of relevance as the primary driver of consumers’ perceptions of the value and quality of higher education and identify scalable solutions to increase relevance in post-secondary learning

Strada Education NetworkSM and Gallup today released new findings from the Strada-Gallup Education Consumer Survey, revealing only one quarter (26 percent) of U.S. adults with college experience strongly agree that their college coursework is relevant to their work and daily life. The survey results were released at a thought leader event at Gallup Headquarters in Washington, D.C., where higher education, policy and workforce experts weighed in on the findings and their implications.

The report, From College to Life: Relevance and the Value of Higher Education, is the second installment of a three-part series examining consumer perspectives on the relevance of post-secondary coursework among a nationally representative sample of 110,481 adults, aged 18 to 65, who are currently employed and have taken at least some college courses. The findings suggest that perceptions of relevance are closely linked to alumni perceptions about the value and quality of their higher education experiences, and relevance is a stronger predictor of those perceptions than conventional measures of either student or college characteristics.

“Education consumers are very clear on how essential relevance is in finding quality and value in post-secondary educational experiences. The overall importance of relevance may not be surprising to some, but the failure to deliver more of it, more consistently should concern all,” said Dave Clayton, senior vice president of consumer insights at Strada Education Network.

New findings reveal:

  • Only 26 percent of working U.S. adults with college experience strongly agree that their education is relevant to their work and day-to-day life.
  • Consumer ratings of relevance are more powerful predictors of quality and value than demographic characteristics of individuals, their fields of study and their levels of education. Relevance better predicts quality and value than gender, race, ethnicity, age, income, field of study and attainment level.
  • Both two-year and four-year degrees are relevant to consumers’ current lives. While the value of four-year degrees is often emphasized, equally high levels of relevance are found among those with two-year degrees, making it a powerful pathway, especially for adult learners.
  • Completion matters. Regardless of the field of study or degree type consumers pursue, those who complete their studies find greater relevance, value and quality in their higher education investments.
  • Educational relevance varies across degrees and fields of study. The fit between individuals and higher education results in different experiences of relevance. On average, those who complete their higher education with a two-year STEM degree—which included healthcare majors—report more relevance than consumers completing their education with four-year degrees in any broadly defined field. Four-year public service (e.g. education and social work) and STEM degrees provide equivalent consumer relevance.

Earlier findings from this study revealed that consumers who strongly agree that the courses they took are relevant to their careers and lives are:

  • 63 percentage points more likely to strongly agree their education was worth the cost.
  • 50 percentage points more likely to strongly agree that they received a high-quality education.
  • 18 percentage points more likely to be “thriving” in their overall well-being than are those who strongly disagree.

Results also showed that relevance is a better predictor of quality and value than other measures used in college rankings. Alumni ratings of relevance are two and three times more powerful at predicting quality and value than traditional college ranking inputs such as average SAT/ACT math scores, student loan default rates, average cost of attendance, alumni income earnings and graduation rates.

Clayton added that listening to consumers not only reveals current gaps, but also solutions. “If we are committed to being student-centered, opportunities quickly emerge and point to clear actions for higher education leaders, policymakers, employers and partner organizations,” he said. “Our goal is not to admire the problem, but to leverage these insights to enhance higher education’s relevance and value as a means to help each student succeed in education, work and life.”

Implications discussed at the May 3 event will serve as the foundation for the final chapter of the series and will highlight specific actions and scalable solutions. Featured contributors and event panelists include:

  • Jeremy Anderson, president, Education Commission of the States
  • Sarah Bauder, chief transformation officer, Society for Human Resource Management
  • Mildred García, president, American Association of State Colleges and Universities
  • Cheryl Oldham, senior vice president of education and workforce, U.S. Chamber of Commerce
  • Michael J. Sorrell, president, Paul Quinn College

“Now is the time to act upon these insights and ensure every student experiences a post-secondary education that is relevant to his or her chosen work and personal well-being,” said Brandon Busteed, executive director of education and workforce development at Gallup.

View comments from the event online via #EduPulse. Video of the event will be made available via Strada’s YouTube channel at a later date.

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