Article originally published in the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) Magazine (Winter 2018) by Amada Torres, vice president for studies, insights, and research at NAIS.
Many independent schools focus on educating the whole child and addressing social/emotional and physical growth as well as academic development. New research conducted by the research firm Gallup shows that this holistic approach to education may result in better long-term outcomes for graduates. A report summarizing the findings, NAIS-Gallup Report on NAIS Graduates: Seeking Critical Collegiate Experiences and Consistent Progression in Higher Education, was published in September 2017.
NAIS worked with Gallup for several years to investigate the life outcomes and well-being of graduates of independent schools. Gallup’s analysis found that a higher percentage of NAIS graduates than public school graduates enrolled in college immediately after high school (85 percent of NAIS graduates compared to 69 percent of public school graduates). Nearly 100 percent of graduates from NAIS schools go on to college, with more than half attending the most selective colleges and universities.
Another key finding of the Gallup analysis is that NAIS graduates, including minority and first-generation students (those who were the first in their families to attend college), outpace their peers who graduated from public and non-NAIS private high schools in seeking out many key experiential learning and extracurricular opportunities in college. These differences persist even after accounting for personality type, which can influence students’ propensity to seek out activities in college.
NAIS graduates are more likely to be involved in a wide range of experiential learning and extracurricular activities during college, including participating in research with faculty, holding a leadership position in a club or organization, participating in intramural sports, being members of fraternities or sororities, and working on projects that took longer than a semester. Additional research from Gallup shows that these activities are strongly correlated with higher rates of well-being and workplace engagement later in life.
NAIS graduates’ participation in extracurricular activities and close work with faculty in college seem to be an outgrowth of their high school experiences. These findings are also reflected in the Cooperative Institutional Research Program (CIRP) Freshman Survey conducted by the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA. This survey collects extensive information from incoming first-year college students about behaviors in high school, interactions with peers and faculty, academic preparedness, and expectations of college, among other variables. The latest CIRP survey found that independent school students (NAIS and non-NAIS) expected to be more engaged than their counterparts in a number of extracurricular activities in college, including participating in student clubs or groups (57.1 percent versus 49.7 percent for public school students), recreational sports (35.4 percent versus 29 percent), and fraternities or sororities (21.8 percent versus 12.8 percent).
The extensive participation of NAIS graduates in collegiate activities represents a significant result given the long-lasting impact these activities have. Previous Gallup research revealed that alumni who were extremely active in extracurricular activities and organizations in college were 1.6 times more likely to be engaged at work and 1.2 times more likely to be thriving in all five elements of well-being measured by Gallup (See “How Does Gallup Measure Well-Being?” following the article). Likewise, graduates who worked on a project that took a semester or more to complete were 1.7 times more likely to be engaged at work and 1.2 times more likely to be thriving in all five elements of well-being.
Gallup also found that NAIS graduates progress through college more consistently than their peers from other private and public schools. Seventy-seven percent of NAIS graduates completed their bachelor’s degree in four years or less, compared with 69 percent of non-NAIS private high school graduates and 64 percent of public high school graduates. Similarly, 22 percent of NAIS graduates transferred at some point during their undergraduate careers—a much lower rate than the 37 percent of public high school graduates and 31 percent of non-NAIS private high school graduates who transferred. These results were also true for minority and first-generation students graduating from NAIS schools.
These findings suggest that NAIS graduates enter their collegiate lives at a relative advantage over their peers from other types of schools and the benefits persist. Consistent progression through college is linked to financial advantages such as lower student debt and higher starting salaries. In addition to these financial benefits, Gallup found that NAIS graduates who completed their college degrees in four years or less and did not transfer during college are more likely to be interested in the work they do.
Overall, Gallup found that the student experience at NAIS schools is associated with important undergraduate opportunities which, in turn, relate to elevated levels of well-being and long-term career satisfaction. The NAIS experience helps position students well as they transition into college, setting them up favorably for lives of purpose and meaning.