Alumni views reveal impact of higher ed choices
When it comes to how colleges educate and prepare students to succeed, graduates of Minnesota's nonprofit private colleges give their alma maters more credit than graduates of the region's flagship public institutions. In new research conducted by Twin Cities-based Hardwick-Day, graduates of Minnesota's Private Colleges report working more closely with faculty, graduating more often in four years and linking their college education more often to developing a sense of purpose in life.
"Hearing from alumni, as part of this national research effort, puts a spotlight on just what is unique about earning an undergraduate degree from one of Minnesota's Private Colleges," said MaryAnn Baenninger, College of Saint Benedict president and Minnesota Private College Council board chair. "These results show that for many future college students, attending a private institution in Minnesota can be a better choice. A degree from one of these institutions has a high value for our graduates."
The Comparative Survey of College Graduates involved 364 alumni from the 17 member institutions of the Minnesota Private College Council, which was one of the project's sponsors. It also involved surveying 249 alumni from major national public universities in the six-state region, including the University of Wisconsin-Madison, University of Minnesota-Twin Cities and North Dakota State University. The alumni all graduated between 1980 and 2006. New surveying for the project was completed in late 2011.
Weighing public-private choices
Several of the survey results spoke to the strength of faculty-student interaction at private colleges, including questions regarding personal interaction with faculty, having faculty as mentors and the quality of faculty references for impact job and grad school searches. In addition, 82% of Minnesota private college graduates said that faculty were interested in students both personally and academically, compared to only 27% of the graduates of flagship publics in the six-state region.
Support for community involvement was another area of distinction for Minnesota's Private Colleges; private college alumni reported higher levels of tutoring other students, participating in off-campus study and volunteering. In addition, 54% of Minnesota private college graduates said they participated in a college-sponsored internship or other applied learning opportunity, compared to 34% of graduates of flagship publics in the six-state region.
Given in part the strength of faculty interaction and community engagement, students at private colleges are more likely to graduate in four years. Graduating in four years or less was something that 77% of Minnesota private college graduates said they had done, compared to only 47% of the graduates of flagship public universities in the six-state region. This result allows for a clear apples-to-apples comparison between two groups of college graduates; the only difference is whether they attended public or private institutions. Graduation rates are well accepted as a measure of quality; taking more than four years to graduate also has a significant impact on the cost of college (PDF, 132 KB), given the cost of additional years of education and lost earnings.
And when it came to what their college education did to help them prepare for life after graduation, Minnesota private college graduates reported more impact in terms of their speaking, writing and leadership skills. In addition, 76% of Minnesota private college graduates said that their colleges were effective in helping them develop a sense of purpose in life, compared to 49% of graduates of flagship publics in the six-state region.
The research also looked at the views of graduates of highly selective private colleges, as defined by U.S. News and World Report. On many questions, the results from graduates of Minnesota's Private Colleges were at or above the levels reported by graduates of the highly selective privates
"Not only are our private nonprofit colleges able to show such a value difference with leading public institutions in the region, we're also competitive with the most sought after private institutions nationally," said Paul Cerkvenik, president, Minnesota Private College Council. "This demonstrates the quality of the private colleges that Minnesotans have available in their own backyard."
See the Alumni views page for a summary of the areas of distinction for Minnesota's Private Colleges, an executive summary and the full report.