Survey finds life satisfaction not linked to exclusive colleges

USC students cheer during their graduation ceremony last year. A new poll suggests that satisfaction with later life does not depend much on which college students attended.
(Bob Chamberlin / Los Angeles Times)

A new national poll has found that satisfaction with life and work does not depend much on where graduates attended college -- except if they attended a for-profit school. The study also suggested that encouragement from professors is important for later success.

The survey by the Gallup organization and Purdue University asked college graduates about several measures of personal satisfaction, including financial, work, social and health. In most cases, no major distinctions were found in overall well-being between graduates of public or private colleges, small or large, very selective or not, according to the survey of more than 30,000 people of various ages across the country.

However, graduates of private for-profit institutions appeared to fare worse than others, the Gallup-Purdue Index study said. For example, 39% of all college graduates who work full time for an employer reported that they are well engaged at work, but only 29% of those who attended private for-profit schools said the same. Graduates of for-profits score much lower than anyone one else in an index that measures high levels of satisfaction in all of the poll’s categories of personal and work life.

John Pryor, the lead researcher on the report, said that students who attend for-profit institutions may have come from lower socioeconomic circumstances in general than other students and that could influence why they scored lower. Another possibility may be that those schools are not helping those graduates to advance in careers as much as other schools do but the matter needed more study, he added.


In addition, the poll found that people who owed large amounts of student debt -- more than $20,000 -- reported more problems in life than other groups.

The “Great Jobs and Great Lives” study found that graduates who received personal attention and encouragement from a college professor to pursue their goals and who participated in paid internships during school were more likely to be engaged and satisfied with their jobs after graduation.

“Those are the things we need to have colleges offer more of and teach students to look for,” Pryor said.

Sixty-three percent of the poll participants reported that they “had at least one professor who made me excited about learning,” while just 27% said their college professors cared about them as people and 22% said they had a mentor “who encouraged me to pursue my goals and dreams.”