North Carolina

Do UNC system graduates think they got a good education value? The Gallup survey says ...

Schools in the University of North Carolina system are generally regarded as a good value by their graduates, who are more likely than college graduates nationally to say their real-world jobs are interesting and engaging, according to a new Gallup survey.

The UNC system commissioned the survey to collect data on graduate success after college and how that success is connected to a student’s undergraduate experience. The information was called for as part of the university system’s five-year Strategic Plan, which directs the system to improve access, affordability, student success and economic impact.

The online survey was conducted between November 2018 and February 2019. According to a report presented Tuesday to the UNC Board of Governors at its meeting in Chapel Hill, Gallup reached out to people who had graduated with bachelor’s degrees from UNC schools between 1940 and 2018 and for whom email addresses were on file. Gallup said 77,695 of those invited to participate in the survey did.

The survey cost $180,000, a UNC spokesman said.

“We were hoping to confirm through data what we have believed for some time — that our alumni have expanded opportunities and a better quality of life as a result of their UNC System education,” the system’s interim president, Bill Roper, said in a news release. “The results show that our alumni are more engaged, better prepared and lead more purposeful lives compared to the average college graduate.”

UNC said the survey was the first of its kind for North Carolina’s public universities. Results were compared to a Gallup database of previous surveys of college graduates nationally; graduates of public institutions; and graduates of private, not-for-profit institutions.

The survey found that:

64% of UNC system alumni think their undergraduate education was worth the cost. That’s more than 10 percentage points above all the comparison groups, the report said.

The report noted that those who had graduated from UNC system schools in the past 10 years were less likely than those graduating in previous decades to say their education was worth the cost. It also pointed out that those recent graduates are more likely than others to be repaying student loans.

71% of respondents said they had had a professor in college who made them “excited about learning,” compared to 61% of respondents from public institutions nationally, the report said. 33% of UNC system graduates said they felt their professors cared about them as people, compared to 28% of college graduates nationally. In UNC schools, 28% of graduates said they had had a mentor who encouraged them, compared to 22% nationally.

Graduates from UNC schools are more likely to have pursued advanced degrees than their counterparts nationally. Nearly half of UNC system grads had received advanced degrees, according to the report, compared to 36% of college graduates nationally. However, the survey found some disparities among graduate degrees sought.

For instance, the report said, UNC system alumni are more likely to have earned a Master of Science, Ph.D. and Doctor of Medicine compared to national averages. But they are substantially less likely than their comparison groups to have achieved a Master of Arts.

UNC system graduates are more likely to feel a strong sense of attachment to their university than their counterparts nationally, and are more likely to recommend their school to others, the report said.

When it came to post-college employment, Gallup said the survey tried to go beyond the simplest measures of a successful college experience, such as whether the student was able to find a job after graduation. The report said the survey tried to gauge well being, which it said “is not only about being happy or wealthy, nor is it merely synonymous with physical health. Rather, it is about the interaction and interdependence among many aspects of life that Gallup measures in five elements: purpose well being, social well being, financial well being, community well being, and physical well being.”

Overall, the survey found, UNC system graduates fare remarkably well in their well being. They are more likely than all comparison groups to be thriving in each of the five areas named. They also are more likely than all groups to be thriving in at least four well being elements, the report said.

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Martha Quillin is a general assignment reporter at The News & Observer who writes about North Carolina culture, religion and social issues. She has held jobs throughout the newsroom since 1987.