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Purdue, Gallup join to create measures higher-ed learning outcomes

Wednesday, December 18, 2013 - 8:34 am

Purdue University is partnering with Gallup, the global polling and consulting organization, in the name of higher education accountability.

The organizations are calling the new joint venture announced the Gallup-Purdue Index, which they say will facilitate the “largest representative study of college graduates in U.S. history.” The index aims to create a national benchmark that evaluates the long-term success of graduates, measured by indicators including career and life satisfaction.

For Purdue President Mitch Daniels, the collaboration is a response to a rapidly changing higher education sector, wherein colleges, including the West Lafayette research institution, have in recent years had to justify rising tuition rates with record amounts of student loan debt and an unsteady job market.

“This is going to be an unprecedented treasure trove of data about what leads to successful work and successful lives, and which categories of institutions seem to produce the most successful graduates,” said Daniels, who shortly after arriving at Purdue in January announced he would freeze tuition for two years. “It'll be a really deep vein of new learning, and Purdue researchers will be right in the middle of it.”

The national index will be available in early spring. It will be made up of information Gallup collects through random digit-dialing and Web-based surveys. Since it's not a ranking of colleges, it won't drill down its findings to the institutional level. Rather, the public will be able to compare a national benchmark to performance on a state-by-state level, along with different classifications of institutions.

The index will take into account workplace engagement and well-being, measured by dimensions that surround characteristics of college graduates' social, physical, financial and community lives. “What we're measuring is really to what degree these graduates have great jobs and great lives,” said Brandon Busteed, executive director of Gallup Education. “We hope this is something that the higher education sector is really excited about. It sends a clear message that this is about higher ed, for higher ed, by higher ed.”

The move comes after President Obama's proposal in August to create a federal college rating system aimed at better accountability for institutions. The Obama administration says the plan is to eventually tie federal student aid to college performance.

“We've been working on this for around 10 months,” Daniels said. “The timing here is just sort of coincidental. This is not some kind of reaction to that. We do think we've got something that's very superior to what they're talking about.”

Two key organizations in the higher education sector, the Association of American Universities, and the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, announced their support for the Gallup-Purdue Index.

“We at AAU are encouraged by this thoughtful, research-based approach to evaluating the outcomes of students' higher education experiences,” said Hunter Rawlings, president of AAU. “The Gallup-Purdue Index is an ambitious and challenging undertaking whose goals may be difficult to accomplish. But it contains strong elements that make it superior to many other existing and proposed outcome measures.”

Along with collaborating on designing the new national benchmark, Purdue also is the first university to sign a contract with Gallup for a detailed study of its own graduates to find how it is faring compared with the national benchmark.

“The rankings that are out there are plainly inadequate,” Daniels said. “Some of them are counterproductive.

“We're trying to do something that is really about measuring results and output. It's truly voluntary whether schools participate in it or not. My view is that's a responsibility for schools to step up to, but it'll be their choice.”

Helping to make the project come together is a $2 million grant to Purdue from Lumina Foundation, a private, Indianapolis-based foundation aiming to increase higher education attainment in America.

“In the national drive to increase college attainment and meet the growing need for talent, better and more explicit information about the outcomes of higher education is essential,” said Jamie Meiosis, president and CEO of Lumina Foundation. “This index will do just that by providing powerful new evidence to measure whether colleges and universities deliver on the improved life and job outcomes that Americans expect of them.”

At Purdue, the announcement comes after months of work by a committee, commissioned by Daniels shortly after he arrived, to study student growth and achievement.

The Gallup-Purdue Index is part of that initiative, Daniels said, along with work that Purdue researchers are doing to individually track student growth while they're at Purdue. Daniels said he is keenly interested in finding out what drives students to the highest levels of academic and career achievement.

“It's not a great trick to graduate talented people,” Daniels said. “Just don't let anybody but talented people in. We're a land-grant school. (We want to know) did they blossom, did they learn, did they grow while they were here? That's what they're paying you for.” The natural complement to that is (learning) what kind of workers and citizens, what kind of lives, are our graduates leading in the years after they leave Purdue?”