The phrase “academic excellence” has been used so freely and for so long that it no longer has any substantive meaning; the claim is made by all academic institutions at all levels of education. The ambiguity of these words, however, does not diminish the importance of the underlying concept if thoughtfully considered and appropriately applied. Can we reclaim the concept? Perhaps.
A new research report released in 2015 by Gallup outlines the results of a study completed in partnership with the Lumina Foundation and Purdue University. The project is referred to as the Gallup-Purdue Index. The goal of the research was to “study the relationship between the college experience and college graduates’ lives.” The results are fascinating and offer important affirmations for our own academic community.
The findings reveal the “Big Six” undergraduate experiences that are closely related to long-term life outcomes.
- I had at least one professor at [College] who excited me about learning.
- My professors at [College] 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 [College].
The results also reveal that at one end of the spectrum, 82 percent of graduates who reported having all six of these experiences during college also reported that college prepared them well for life. By contrast, those who reported having none of these “Big Six” experiences indicated they were well prepared for life after college only five percent of the time. The bottom line is that higher levels of engagement in mentoring relationships and experiential learning during college lead to better outcomes in life.
We have much to celebrate. Central College has been deeply devoted to a highly engaged learning experience since its founding. Our alumni, current students and parents would find no surprises in the Gallup-Purdue Index. They bear witness to the formative experiences and the outcomes. We tell each other the stories of our beloved faculty who have devoted their lives to students for generations and credit them with our achievements.
Teaching and learning is an intense human interaction that cannot be limited to quick memorization, narrowly defined skill sets and dehumanized learning environments. Academic excellence is best defined by the experience of the learner, who is placed in a setting designed for learning, mentored by faculty devoted to teaching and integrated with a blend of the liberal arts, professional fields of study and experiential learning opportunities. Gallup has simply affirmed what we already know – the outcomes of our lives flow from the quality of our learning.