From College to Life

Relevance and the Value of Higher Education

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New Strada-Gallup data reveal only 26 percent of working U.S. adults with college experience strongly agree their education is relevant to their work and day-to-day life. Industry experts explore the power of relevance as the primary driver of learners’ perceptions of the value and quality of higher education and identify scalable solutions to increase relevance in postsecondary learning.

Key Findings


Only 26 percent of working U.S. adults with college experience strongly agree that their education is relevant to their work and day-to-day life.


Learner ratings of relevance are more powerful predictors of quality and value than demographic characteristics of individuals, their fields of study and their level of education. Relevance better predicts quality and value than gender, race, ethnicity, age, income, field of study, and attainment level.


Both two-year and four-year degrees are relevant to learners’ current lives. While the value of four-year degrees is often emphasized, equally high levels of relevance are found among those with two-year degrees, making it a powerful pathway, especially for adult learners.


Completion matters. Regardless of the field of study or degree type learners pursue, those who complete their studies find greater relevance, value and quality in their higher education investments.


Educational relevance varies across degrees and fields of study. The fit between individuals and higher education results in different experiences of relevance. On average, those who complete their higher education with a two-year STEM degree — which included healthcare majors — report more relevance than learners completing their education with four-year degrees in any broadly defined field. Four-year public service (e.g. education and social work) and STEM degrees provide equivalent learner relevance.

Relevance scores have an impact beyond purely educational outcomes–they are related to an individual’s overall sense of well being. Among those who are ‘thriving,’ there is an 18-percentage point difference between those with relevance scores of two compared with those with relevance scores of 10.

Strada Education Network and Gallup today released new findings from the Strada- Gallup Education Survey, revealing only one quarter (26 percent) of U.S. adults with college experience strongly agree that their college coursework is relevant to their work and daily life. The survey results were released at a thought leader event at Gallup Headquarters in Washington, D.C., where higher education, policy and workforce experts weighed in on the findings and their implications.

The report, From College to Life: Relevance and the Value of Higher Education, is the second installment of a three-part series examining learner perspectives on the relevance of postsecondary coursework among a nationally representative sample of 110,481 adults, aged 18 to 65, who are currently employed and have taken at least some college courses. The findings suggest that perceptions of relevance are closely linked to alumni perceptions about the value and quality of their higher education experiences, and relevance is a stronger predictor of those perceptions than conventional measures of either student or college characteristics.

Results also showed that relevance is a better predictor of quality and value than other measures used in college rankings. Alumni ratings of relevance are two and three times more powerful at predicting quality and value than traditional college ranking inputs such as average SAT/ACT math scores, student loan default rates, average cost of attendance, alumni income earnings and graduation rates.

Implications discussed at the May 3 event will serve as the foundation for the final chapter of the series and will highlight specific actions and scalable solutions. Featured contributors and event panelists include:

  • Jeremy Anderson, president, Education Commission of the States
  • Sarah Bauder, chief transformation officer, Society for Human Resource Management
  • Mildred García, president, American Association of State Colleges and Universities
  • Cheryl Oldham, senior vice president of education and workforce, U.S. Chamber of Commerce
  • Michael J. Sorrell, president, Paul Quinn College

When it comes to education after high school, Americans know what they value and why. At Strada Education Network, we are listening to what they have to say and leveraging their insights about experiences and outcomes to forge more purposeful pathways between education and careers.

Gallup strategically partners with institutions to conduct custom research and implement best practices that create environments in which students and employees thrive.

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