The Kira team was fortunate enough to have Brandon Busteed, Executive Director of Higher Education at Gallup, join us as part of our 'Ask the Expert' webinar series last week.

Brandon shared Gallup’s latest education work, including a snapshot of the current state of higher education in America. He also discussed what schools can do to set students up for success in the workplace and ensure they live a great life.

You can watch a full recording of the webinar above, or read on to learn what he had to say.

American students are unprepared for the workplace

Brandon opened by sharing a startling fact -- 96% of academic leaders think they are doing a great job of preparing students for the workforce, yet only 11% of business leaders agree.

That's a massive difference.

To confirm this, we polled the audience during our webinar and saw similar results:

87% of academic leaders believe their school does a good job preparing students for the workplace

87% of webinar attendees said that their school or program is doing a good job at preparing students for the workplace.

Despite this gulf, as Brandon put it, higher education is still operating in an environment of near 100% demand.

Gallup's research shows that 95% of Americans say it’s very or somewhat important to have a certificate or degree beyond high school, despite the fact that just 14% of them agree that schools do a good job preparing students for the workplace.

Perhaps just as troubling, half of US respondents believe that American higher education institutions are the same or worse than other countries, and half say they're the same or worse than they were in the past. Yikes!

These are troubling numbers. Especially since students say the number one goal of education is to get them a good job.

It turns out what employers are looking for in graduates is quite simple: internships and on-the-job experience.

So why aren't more schools knocking this out of the park?

"There are so many ways to get at it." said Brandon, "Long term projects, project-based learning, case studies, and the obvious things, like internships and apprenticeships, but when we look at college graduates they are woefully inadequate in all these measures."

Higher education institutions should be measured on the learning growth and development of students

Brandon was quick to point out that the ways in which we measure the performance of both higher education institutions and students is limited to traditional measures. For academic institutions we look at how selective their school is as a way to determine their ranking. For students, we look at their GPA, their rank in class, degree attainment, and employment rates.

But isn't there more to it than that?

"None of these statistics measure the learning growth and development of students from when they matriculate to when they graduate," said Brandon, "Using that kind of measure we have no idea what the best colleges and universities are in the US".

While ensuring that graduates are successful in their careers is important, Brandon points out that higher education institutions need to think bigger. "Beyond their career outcomes, we need to ensure that they're also living great lives - that they're thriving in their overall well-being, " he said.

This is actually an area that Gallup has spent considerable time researching -- they were able to break down well-being into five elements: financial, physical, social, community, and purpose well-being.

The more of these elements you have in your life, the higher your overall level of well-being. The higher your overall level of well-being, the better your performance is in the workplace.

The six essential ingredients for successful graduates

It turns out that schools can actually influence the level of well-being of their graduates by providing them with six experiences during their time at school.

  • I had at least one professor who made me excited about learning
  • I had a professor who cared about me as a person
  • I had a mentor who encouraged my hopes and dreams
  • I worked on a long-term project that took a semester or more to complete
  • I had an internship or job where I applied my learning
  • I was extremely involved in extra-curricular activities

It doesn't matter if the student went to a top-ranked school or a public school -- students who had one or more of these six essential experiences were reaping massive rewards, including:

  • 3x the chance of thriving in all five areas of well-being
  • 2x the chance of being engaged in their work
  • Significantly higher chance of graduating within four years
  • Feeling more prepared for life

It's a slam dunk, but unfortunately, schools just aren't doing a good job at giving students these experiences. In fact, less than a third of students ever work on a project that takes a semester or more to complete, and just one-fifth of students had a mentor who encouraged them.

"You can look at this data from a glass half full or half empty perspective," Brandon said, "but the good news is that if educational institutions start to pay attention to these things, there's nowhere to go but up."