Gallup 2017 College Student Survey: “Crisis of Confidence” Among Students Entering the Workforce

Article by Josh Greenberg 

A survey of 32,585 students across 43 randomly selected colleges and universities conducted in 2017 was released by Gallup in January with some alarming results. The results are based on web surveys conducted March 21-May 8, 2017. The margin of sampling error is ±0.8% at the 95% confidence level, and the results are weighted to correct for unequal selection probability and nonresponse. Colleges and universities are defined as degree-granting institutions awarding four-year degrees, and only private non-for-profit and public colleges were eligible for participation.

It is no secret that there is a growing morale problem among college students. The Federal Reserve Bank of New York puts the national student loan debt at $1.41 Trillion, with an average debt per student borrower at $27,975. These alarming statistics are reported all the time, and there seems to be no current solution to the growing debt problem. Given this pervasive crisis among young adults, the Strada-Gallup report asks an important question: Do the students feel like they’re getting their money’s worth?

The study does not inspire confidence. “Overall, 34% and 36% of current students believe they will graduate with the skills and knowledge they need to be successful in the job market and the workplace, respectively. A majority of students (53%) believe their major will lead to a good job.” When analyzing the data across different fields of study, however, the results become more diverse.

Students pursuing a public service degree (education, social work, criminal justice, etc…) report the highest confidence that their education gives them the skills needed to be successful both in the job market and the workplace (44% and 46%, respectively). When asked if they were confident that their major will lead to a good job, however, they lose their lead to STEM fields. While 58% of public service majors are confident that those majors would lead to a good job, that number jumps to 62% for STEM majors. It is important to note that these percentages refer to students who strongly agreed, or selected 5 on a 1-5 scale, that they were confident that their majors would lead to a good job.

The lowest confidence levels in all three questions pertaining to preparation for the workforce were answered by liberal arts majors. 28% strongly agreed that they will have the knowledge and skills to be successful in the job market, and 32% felt they would be adequately equipped for success in the workplace. Among those liberal arts students who were asked that their major would lead to a good job, only 40% strongly agreed. This is the only field of study in which that number dips below half.

The numbers seem bleak, and certainly speak to a degree of frustration among young adults who use higher education to prepare for the adult world. The Strada-Gallup report does offer a solution, however. 58% of students have used their college’s/university’s career services office or online career resources provided by those institutions once at most. This includes the 39% of students who have never used these resources at all. Though upperclassmen are more likely to use the services, 35% of seniors report that they never have.

How important is this? For minorities, black and Hispanic students found career resource centers to be helpful by a significant majority, and were more likely to find the services helpful. For students in general, 48% have found the centers to be helpful creating or updating a resume. Although only one in ten respondents have used career services for help applying to graduate programs, about two-fifths of the respondents say that the advice they have received from those programs was useful. 60% of those who reported confidence that their majors would lead to a good job communicated frequently with faculty and staff members about potential career options.

When breaking down the data, the report reads less as a dark representation of where we are and more as a cautionary tale of the years to come. In other words: Students, use your college’s career services! Education will certainly aid your understanding of a particular field of work, but entering that field takes more effort than attending class. Faculty members and career services have a significant impact on perceived workforce-readiness. While this report does mainly gauge the confidence-levels of students, confidence is key when entering the vast and daunting job market that waits at the other end of the college degree.    

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