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Are You Measuring the Right Things for Your Students?

Are You Measuring the Right Things for Your Students?

by Chris Howard and David Majka

Story Highlights

  • Using Gallup research, a private university redefines its value proposition.
  • The university's new strategic plan provides a better experience for every student.

Robert Morris University is an upstart, as colleges and universities go. We're not yet 100 years old, and unlike many of our older, more traditional competitors, we're not afraid to say loud and clear that we are in the business of preparing students for successful careers. Career outcomes are a big part of our brand.

And yet, we've always faced the same struggle as our brothers and sisters in the liberal arts: How do we make the case that the university is effectively carrying out our educational mission? Even the outcomes that professionally focused institutions such as RMU favor, like job placement rates, are proxies of success and quality for the university.

A New Way of Measuring Outcomes

What intrigued RMU about the Gallup Alumni Survey (formerly the Gallup-Purdue Index) is that it promised a completely new way to measure the outcomes of a college education, and one that was steeped in rigorous empirical research. In addition, Gallup's work reconciled contrasting philosophies of higher education, which often exist side by side at the same institution: RMU, after all, cares about its graduates' souls, not only their salaries, just as liberal arts colleges want students to apply their intellectual passions toward an impactful career.

The Gallup Alumni Survey measures the long-term success of college graduates -- whether they're engaged at work, whether they're working in their field of choice and how far they've climbed. But it also measures the Aristotelian concept of wellbeing: to be well in terms of community, in terms of finance, in terms of health -- among the other measures of wellbeing the survey captures.

Does Your University Deliver the "Big Six" Undergraduate Experiences?

Even better, Gallup's research has found that for college graduates, workplace engagement and personal wellbeing spring from the same source -- the "Big Six" undergraduate experiences. Gallup's work enables us to go to the most ardent professor of liberal arts and say, "We care about the whole person. Here is the Rosetta Stone: the Big Six experiences."

"Big Six" College Experiences
I had at least one professor at [institution] who made me excited about learning.
My professors at [institution] cared about me as a person.
I had a mentor who encouraged me to pursue my goals and dreams.
I worked on a project that took a semester or more to complete.
I had an internship or job that allowed me to apply what I was learning in the classroom.
I was extremely active in extracurricular activities and organizations while I attended [institution].
Gallup Alumni Survey

And the Big Six experiences are not the exclusive domain of any single type of institution. Large research universities, religiously affiliated colleges, professionally focused schools, HBCUs -- any type of higher education enterprise is capable of delivering them.

Fulfilling careers and the undergraduate experiences that engender them have always been part of our DNA. We like to say that RMU is big enough to matter, yet small enough to care. We are a nationally ranked, doctoral-granting institution with NCAA Division I sports, a well-connected alumni network and state-of-the-art academic facilities. Yet we have small class sizes, highly customized academic advising, and a culture of faculty and staff mentoring. So the Gallup Alumni Survey seemed a perfect match for RMU when the university signed on in 2014.

Our results confirmed that we delivered on what we promised. Still, we didn't think it was enough to allow the Big Six to arise organically out of our institutional culture. We wanted to be deliberate in ensuring that every student enjoyed those experiences, and that they were intertwined with the curriculum, with career and academic advising, and in student life. So we wrote the Big Six into our most recent strategic plan, RMU 100, which took effect Jan. 1, 2018, and will culminate with RMU's 100th anniversary in 2021. The strategic plans for each of our academic schools also include steps to incorporate the Big Six into the experiences they provide their students.

Gallup's work enables us to go to the most ardent professor of liberal arts and say, "We care about the whole person. Here is the Rosetta Stone: the Big Six experiences."

Measuring the Right Things and Educating the Whole Person

Best of all, the Gallup Alumni Survey will tell us how we're doing and where we need to improve. Call it teaching to the test. But, thanks to decades of Gallup research, we know we are measuring the right things, and we can say with confidence to our friends in the liberal arts that we are educating the whole person.

We invite you to learn more about how the Gallup Alumni Survey has shaped our brand at Robert Morris University, and how we have incorporated it into our strategic plan, by viewing this on-demand webinar featuring Helen Stubbs, senior consultant at Gallup. Learn how we make sure that RMU remains big enough to matter, yet small enough to care.

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Chris Howard, D.Phil., is the eighth president of Robert Morris University near Pittsburgh.

David Majka, Ed.D., is the vice president for planning and administration and associate professor of learning resources at Robert Morris University.

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