Survey Says

Survey Says

By Cindy Murphy McMahon, BA’74

A new Creighton and Gallup survey finds CU alumni engaged in their careers and living meaningful lives.

How do you quantify special? Or unique? Both terms are used by students, alumni and others — with sincerity and affection — to describe Creighton University. More importantly, how do you describe the true value of a Creighton degree in ways that speak to prospective students and their families?

“We knew that we had consistently high rankings and recognitions from entities such as U.S. News & World Report and others, as well as a 97 percent placement rate for new graduates,” said Provost Ed O’Connor, Ph.D., “but we knew Creighton had more than that to offer. That ‘more’ was what we sought to quantify.”

“Anecdotally, we felt there was something special about Creighton, but we had no hard evidence to back it up,” according to Brenda Coppard, Ph.D., special assistant to the provost and the team leader at Creighton working on studying the long-term success of Creighton alumni.

Even as Creighton administrators and admissions counselors were exploring these questions a couple of years ago, a national dialogue was emerging about whether a college degree was worth the investment. In fact, just a mile from Creighton’s campus, researchers at the riverfront operations headquarters of Gallup, Inc., were refining a survey to measure the most important outcomes of a college education.

Gallup and Purdue University created the survey to examine the long-term success of college graduates as they pursue good jobs and better lives. They conducted a study in early 2014 that analyzed the lives of about 30,000 U.S. college graduates with at least a bachelor’s degree.

Leaders at Creighton recognized that the Gallup-Purdue Index measured many of the variables that they wanted to study among Creighton’s alumni. So the University began a partnership with Gallup and became the first faith-based university to partner with the research firm in using the new tool to evaluate the impact of a college degree.

This survey uses a set of measures that quantifies college graduates’ engagement in their careers, attachment to their alma mater and well-being in five key elements: purpose, financial, social, community and physical.

The Creighton study, the “Creighton-Gallup Alumni Survey,” was launched in late 2014. Gallup emailed an invitation to participate in the survey in late November and early December 2014 to over 35,000 Creighton alumni who held at least one degree from Creighton and graduated between 1975 and 2014; over 5,000 responded. In order to be able to compare the Creighton undergraduate alumni results with the national study, respondents who exclusively held advanced degrees from Creighton were removed from the results. The resulting sample of undergraduate degree holders numbered 3,447.

While Creighton administrators were not surprised by the results shared in the report, “Great Jobs, Great Lives: 2014 Creighton University Alumni Outcomes,” they were pleased.

“We found that more Creighton graduates are engaged in their work than the national average,” said Valerie Calderon, Ph.D., senior educational research consultant at Gallup. “And Creighton graduates are also leading other college graduates in living great lives.”

Workplace Engagement

Although Gallup has been measuring Americans’ attitudes and behaviors for more than 75 years, it has placed a special focus on workplace engagement during the last 30 years. Gallup defines employee engagement as being intellectually and emotionally connected to one’s job and work team.

Employees who are engaged at work are more loyal and more productive than those who are not engaged or who are actively disengaged. Gallup’s research shows that only about 30 percent of Americans are engaged in their jobs; the organization says the U.S. workplace is missing out on huge economic benefits and that higher education may be failing to meet students’ expectations if degrees don’t lead to engaging employment.

The Creighton study found that half (50 percent) of the University’s graduates who are employed full time for an employer are engaged at work, compared with 38 percent of graduates nationally. Only 6 percent of Creighton grads were found to be actively disengaged in their work, compared with 12 percent nationally.

An interesting tangential finding is that the employment rate for Creighton alumni outpaces the national average — 72 percent of CU alumni in the survey reported working full time for an employer, compared with 66 percent among college graduates nationally. For Creighton alumni who graduated between 2010 and 2014, the rate is even higher at 86 percent.

In the national study, the odds of being engaged at work more than doubled for graduates if they recalled having …

  • Professors who cared about them as a person,
  • At least one professor who made them excited about learning,
  • A mentor who encouraged them to pursue their dreams.

Creighton scored high on all three factors. Creighton alumni are significantly more likely to strongly agree that they had each of these three experiences individually — and to have experienced all three. In fact, “feeling cared about as a person” was one of Creighton’s strengths — 40 percent of Creighton alumni strongly agree they had this experience, compared with 27 percent nationally.

Well-Being

In the area of well-being, about twice as many Creighton alumni as graduates of other universities are thriving in all five elements studied (purpose, financial, social, community and physical). Sixteen percent of CU grads are thriving in all five areas, compared with just 8 percent of graduates nationwide.

The study found that Creighton graduates have higher well-being than their national counterparts in each of the five elements, and, even in Creighton’s lowest area, physical well-being, 43 percent are thriving compared with 32 percent nationally.

Of the five elements, Creighton alumni are most likely to report thriving in purpose well-being: 64 percent like what they do each day and learn something interesting every day. Forty-nine percent are thriving financially, 58 percent are thriving socially and 54 percent report thriving in their community.

Alumni Attachment

Significantly, 40 percent of Creighton respondents strongly agreed that “Creighton was the perfect school for people like me” (the national response was 31 percent for graduates of other institutions), and 32 percent strongly agreed they “can’t imagine a world without Creighton University” (compared with the national response of 23 percent).

Gallup noted in its report, “Given that Creighton graduates are more likely than graduates nationally to be thriving in well-being and to be engaged at work, it makes sense that they are also more likely to be emotionally attached to their alma mater.” More than one in four Creighton alumni (27 percent) are emotionally attached to CU, compared with fewer than one in five graduates (18 percent) nationally.

Jesuit Values

In addition to the core questions that came from the national study, the Creighton-Gallup Alumni Survey included custom questions to measure the effect of Creighton’s Jesuit, Catholic values and principles on graduates’ lives. These questions were designed with input from focus groups.

Following the main portion of the study, respondents were queried on the Jesuit themes of commitment to service and justice, the practice of critical and thoughtful reflection and more. These findings showed that the majority of alumni strongly agree that the Jesuit tradition is central to Creighton’s mission and purpose. Specifically:

Creighton plans to do additional analyses and reflection on these results and that of future studies, to gain a better understanding of which aspects of the Jesuit educational experience are crucial to graduates’ overall well-being and sense of purpose.

The University will continue to administer the Creighton-Gallup Alumni Survey to specific alumni groups and is currently conducting the study with alumni who graduated in the last five years.

“This enables us to learn our own best practices,” Coppard said, “allowing us to replicate what we are doing well and improve where we need to.”

She added, “And we can say to prospective students and their parents that we are actually following through with what we promise.”

All statistics courtesy Gallup, Inc.  |  Copyright © 2015