Historians of higher education may one day come to describe recent decades as the "Entrance Era" of higher education. It's been an era defined by a near-obsession with getting into college -- and particularly, the "best" colleges. Entire industries have built up around this: test-prep companies, private college admissions advisers, college rankings and enrollment management companies, to name just a few. Colleges and universities also have built large marketing and admissions functions. All of these activities are based on the assumption that for a significant group of high school students and their parents, one of the defining elements of success in life is getting into college -- and in most cases, ideally, a top-ranked institution.

But findings from the Gallup-Purdue Index 2016 report released today suggest that a new era is on the horizon: the "Exit Era" of higher education, in which the ultimate accomplishment will be the successful transition from college to life outside of college.

In the third year of the Gallup-Purdue Index, the largest representative study of college graduates in the U.S., Gallup asked graduates whether they visited their career services office during their undergraduate experience -- and, if so, whether they found it helpful. About half (52%) of all U.S. college graduates say they visited career services. Among recent graduates -- those who obtained their degree between 2010 and 2016 -- this figure increases to 61%. However, given that 86% of incoming freshmen say that getting a better job represents a critical factor in their decision to enroll in college, it is a bit surprising that only 61% of recent grads report visiting the career services office.

Simply visiting career services, though, is not enough to get a good job. What matters is whether graduates had a high-quality experience with career services. Those who visited the career services office are no more likely than those who did not to say they had a good job awaiting them upon graduation -- 31% vs. 34%, respectively. But for those who visited career services and rated it as "very helpful," a significantly higher percentage (49%) report they had a good job awaiting them upon graduation.

Additionally, compared with graduates who say their career services office was "not at all helpful," those who say career services was very helpful are:

  • 5.8 times more likely to say their university prepared them well for life outside of college
  • 3.4 times more likely to recommend their alma mater to others
  • nearly three times more likely to say their education was worth the cost
  • 2.6 times more likely to have donated to their alma mater in the past 12 months

Unfortunately, very few graduates have high-quality career services experiences. Among those who visited their career services office at least once during their undergraduate experience, 16% say the office was very helpful -- the same percentage as those who say it was not at all helpful. If you consider that only about half of college graduates even visited career services, this translates to a mere 8% of all college graduates leaving with a high-quality career services experience. This will no longer be acceptable for higher education institutions in this new Exit Era.

The future may bring days when career services is no longer a place that students "might" visit during college or wait to visit until their last year in school. And a day may come when admissions and enrollment management staffing and budgets no longer dwarf those of career services.

Gallup's greatest insight in our 80+ years of global research is that what the whole world wants most is a good job. It's the top desire of prospective and current college students and their parents. And it's the top will of the world. I believe it is time for career services (and its mission of getting students good jobs) to be fundamental to the mission of all colleges and universities -- and intimately woven into the entire college experience. It's time to transition to the Exit Era of higher education.

Gallup