September 23, 2015

The Department of Education recently launched a website to provide prospective students and their parents with additional data on the performance of colleges and universities (click here to view the ACPHS report).


The website resulted from an Obama administration initiative to rank college performance so that the general population can more easily compare the quality of different schools. This effort was met with steep resistance from the academic community, largely over a disagreement about which quality indicators define success and how they should be measured.

A study released in 2014 by the polling firm Gallup and Purdue University made a similar, and arguably more complete, attempt to measure the outcomes of a college education. In a report entitled “Great Jobs, Great Lives,” Gallup-Purdue used the following five areas of “well being” to define student success:

  • Purpose Well-Being: Finding meaning in your everyday life and being motivated to achieve your goals.
  • Social Well-Being: Having strong and supportive relationships and love in your life.
  • Financial Well-Being: Effectively managing your economic life to reduce stress and increase security.
  • Community Well-Being: The sense of engagement you have with the areas where you live, liking where you live, and feeling safe and having pride in your community.
  • Physical Well-Being: Having good health and enough energy to get things done on a daily basis.

The report was based on interviews with more than 30,000 U.S graduates. One of the key findings was that “feeling supported and having deep learning experiences means everything when it comes to long-term outcomes for college graduates.” In fact, the report found that if a graduate had a professor who made them excited about learning and had a mentor who encouraged them in school, that person was twice as likely to be highly engaged in their vocation.

One of the key findings was that “feeling supported and having deep learning experiences means everything when it comes to long-term outcomes for college graduates.”

Given the obvious benefits of student support and engagement, it is easy to understand why we made the “Student Experience” one of the five goals of our Strategic Agenda. As we have done with each Agenda goal, there have been a series of public focus groups over the past year about the ACPHS Student Experience where we have invited input from all members of the college community.

Chaired by Associate Professor Mike Raley and Assistant Dean Peter Cornish, the Student Experience discussions have generated a number of interesting suggestions to date, with particular emphasis being placed on the importance of mentoring and advising.

Recommendations have included: beginning/continuing faculty advising throughout the summer; involving alumni in the mentoring process; and rethinking the approach to housing so that first and second year students may share residence halls with upperclassmen (i.e., potential peer mentors).

One of the first new initiatives to emerge from these discussions will be a series of Faculty Advisor Training Sessions that will be offered throughout the year, beginning later this month.

The Student Experience conversation will continue this academic year with new Dean of Students Wendy Neifeld Wheeler leading the discussion. Added to the dialogue will be discussion of how to more fully integrate community engagement as part of the student experience.

In parallel with these efforts, the College intends to pursue an official “Community Engagement classification” from The Carnegie Foundation. To receive this designation, institutions must demonstrate, among other things, how they “prepare educated, engaged citizens; address critical societal issues; and contribute to the public good.”

We are currently working toward a plan that will qualify ACPHS as a Community Engaged college. Given our extensive number of community outreach programs and activities – a short list of which includes the ACPHS Academy, the annual Health & Wellness Expo, Relay for Life, and international outreach through the Office of Global Initiatives – I feel optimistic about our chances for success.

As the Gallup-Purdue Report makes clear, having a good job and financial security is important, but in and of itself, does not assure an overall sense of well being. Through our Student Experience initiatives and continued community outreach efforts, we seek to provide all graduates with the skills and experiences to not only secure great jobs, but to lead great lives as well.

Greg Dewey, Ph.D., is President of Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences.

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