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New Research Reveals Importance of Purpose in Preparing College Graduates for the Workforce

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In 2014, Bates began to develop a framework, built on the strengths of the liberal arts, to better prepare students to navigate the evolving world of work. The Purposeful Work program, now fully established, represents a fundamental rethinking of how a college should work with students over the arc of their undergraduate years to think about life after college. Now in its fifth year, Purposeful Work has engaged more than 2,800 Bates students to-date.

New Research Reveals Importance of Purpose in Preparing College Graduates for the Workforce

Bates College-Gallup survey findings uncover how colleges and universities can better prepare students for the future of work

Bates College & Gallup – Expanding Higher Ed’s Purpose

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LEWISTON, Maine—Bates College and Gallup today released findings from a nationally representative survey examining the role that purpose plays in the work lives of college graduates. “Forging Pathways to Purposeful Work: The Role of Higher Education” provides insight into the importance of purpose in work, for both individuals and employers, and how colleges and universities can better prepare graduates to succeed in a complex, global market.

Representing the views of over 3,000 respondents, including college graduates, hiring managers, and parents of college students, the report reveals a significant gap between what college graduates seek from work and what they find:

  • Eighty percent of college graduates surveyed said that it is very important (37 percent) or extremely important (43 percent) to derive a sense of purpose from their work.
  • Yet less than half of college graduates succeed in finding purpose in work.

This “purpose gap” is a problem for both graduates and employers, because there is a strong correlation between employees’ engagement in work and an organization’s bottom line. The purpose gap is also a particular problem for millennials – the largest single segment of the American workforce – as purposeful work appears particularly important to them. Specifically, the study found that millennials are more likely than older graduates to derive purpose from their work than from other sources.

Importantly, the survey also points to solutions, identifying four key college experiences that align with graduates finding purpose in work:

  • Participating in at least one applied internship or job.
  • Having someone who encourages students’ goals and dreams.
  • Being given realistic expectations for post-graduation employment prospects.
  • Participating in a class/program that helps students think about pursuing meaning in work.

“The Bates-Gallup study confirms that a focus on helping students find purpose in work is a powerful way of developing in students the kind of agency they need to thrive in today’s world,” said Bates College President Clayton Spencer. “Higher education has long played a central role in improving the career and life prospects of students, and this study provides clear guidance about how colleges and universities can do a better job of carrying out this role.”

The study also makes clear that students should not simply chase jobs or careers that have superficial appeal. According to the study, reflection and self-awareness play a key role in launching graduates into work that will bring them meaning:

  • Graduates who align their work with their interests, values, and strengths are roughly three times more likely to experience high purpose in work.
  • Graduates with high levels of purpose in their work are nearly 10 times more likely to have high overall wellbeing than those with low levels of purpose in work.

“Previous Gallup studies have identified the college experience as critical to the path take,” said Helen Stubbs, a senior consultant at Gallup who oversaw the study. “Our research with Bates adds a new dimension that elevates the individual’s psychological and emotional alignment with their chosen career path. Where colleges can apply these new findings to their work with students, they stand to accelerate pathways to meaningful work and to produce graduates who thrive as individuals.”

This study with Gallup arose from Bates’ interest to test the premises of its Purposeful Work program. Established in 2014 and built on the fundamentals of a liberal arts education, the Purposeful Work program at Bates is grounded in the college’s mission, has curricular and cocurricular aspects, and takes a four-year developmental approach to working with students to better prepare them for the evolving worlds of work.

“In a world where the average college graduate can expect to have 11 distinct jobs before the age of 50, many of which do not yet exist, graduates can no longer count on stable and well-defined pathways through working life,” said Spencer. “Colleges and universities need to help students develop not only the content knowledge and cognitive and interpersonal skills required for employment, but also a mindset of informed self-determination and adaptability.”

To view complete findings from the Bates-Gallup survey, download the “Forging Pathways to Purposeful Work: The Role of Higher Education” at Gallup.com


About Bates College
Located in Lewiston, Maine, Bates is internationally recognized as a leading college of the liberal arts, attracting 2,000 students from across the U.S. and around the world. Since 1855, Bates has been dedicated to educating the whole person through creative and rigorous scholarship in a collaborative residential community. Committed to opportunity and excellence, Bates has always admitted students without regard to gender, race, religion, or national origin. Cultivating intellectual discovery and informed civic action, Bates prepares leaders sustained by a love of learning and zeal for responsible stewardship of the wider world.

About Gallup
Gallup delivers analytics and advice to help leaders and organizations solve their most pressing problems. Combining more than 80 years of experience with its global reach, Gallup knows more about the attitudes and behaviors of employees, customers, students and citizens than any other organization in the world.

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Forging Pathways to Purposeful Work: The Role of Higher Education

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Photos

Clayton Spencer

The most ambitious fundraising effort in Bates history has a singular aim: to ìsecure what is best and most distinctive about Bates,î President Clayton Spencer told a record-setting crowd of Bates supporters who gathered in Boston on Tuesday evening to kick off the $300 million Bates Campaign. Judging from gift totals announced at the event, the campaign is already a compelling one for Bates donors. During its two-year ìquiet phase,î The Bates Campaign has attracted $168.5 million in gifts and pledges, more than half its goal, Spencer said. The five-year Bates Campaign seeks to strengthen the collegeís endowment by $160 million through professorships and endowed funds for financial aid and academic innovations; improve facilities, including new and modernized STEM facilities; increase funding for programs focused on student success, including Purposeful Work; and sustain a strong Bates Fund. Punctuated by hearty rounds of applause, the evening had its loudest ovation following Spencerís announcement of a stunning $50 million gift from Michael Bonney í80 and Alison Grott Bonney í80. The Boston celebration is the first of four campaign kickoff events, to be followed by events in New York City (May 18), on the Bates campus (May 19), and in San Francisco (June 15). Hosted by broadcast journalist Bryant Gumbel í70 (who will also host Thursdayís kickoff in New York), Tuesdayís lively, multimedia-filled event put Bates students, faculty, and campaign leaders front and center, to the delight of 800 alumni, parents, and friends ó the largest off-campus gathering in Bates history ó who filled the Museum of Fine Arts to near capacity. Punctuated by hearty rounds of applause, the evening had its loudest ovation following Spencerís announcement of a stunning $50 million gift from Michael Bonney í80 and Alison Grott Bonney í80.
At opening Convocation on the morning of Sept. 6, 2016, Adedire A. Fakorede '18 of Newark, N.J., president of the Bates College Student Government, greets assembled students, faculty, and staff. He spoke just after President Clayton Spencer delivered her welcome, and just before Dan Gediman, co-editor of "This I Believe" (2007) and executive producer of NPR’s “This I Believe” radio program, delivered the Convocation address on the historic Quad. The convocation address was followed by a benediction offered by Multifaith Chaplain Brittany Longsdorf. After a recessional, members of the Bates community participated in a memorial tree planting on the Historic Quad in front of Carnegie in memory of all those in the Bates community who died during the past year.
President Clayton Spencer and Dean of Admission and Financial Aid Leigh Weisenburger welcome the incoming students and families of the Bates College Class of 2018 on the Historic Quad.

Rebecca Fraser-Thill

Lecturer in Psychology Rebecca Fraser-Thill, director of program design, purposeful work leads students in Psych 235/Abnormal Psychology in a discussion on anxiety. This course is part of the Purposeful Work Infusion Project which exposes Bates students to worlds of work, questions of identity and purpose, and reflection on decision-making about work through curricular and co-curricular infusions. Curricular infusions occur in “Purposeful Work Infusion courses,” which bridge the gap between course content and “work” (broadly defined).
Lecturer in Psychology Rebecca Fraser-Thill, director of program design, purposeful work leads students in Psych 235/Abnormal Psychology in a discussion on anxiety. This course is part of the Purposeful Work Infusion Project which exposes Bates students to worlds of work, questions of identity and purpose, and reflection on decision-making about work through curricular and co-curricular infusions. Curricular infusions occur in “Purposeful Work Infusion courses,” which bridge the gap between course content and “work” (broadly defined).

General Bates Campus

Convocation, held at 11 a.m. today on the Historic Quad, “provided Bates with an opportunity to welcome the Class of 2022, to celebrate the opening of the college, and to consider, as a community, our shared goals and hopes for the academic year,” said President Clayton Spencer. . Led by the College Mace Bearer Michael Murray, Phillips Processor of Economics, the Convocation procession included President Spencer, Student Body President Walter Washington '19 of Fleetwood, N.Y., and Associate Professor of History Joe Hall. . According to Spencer, “the College has resuscitated what was once a Convocation tradition at Bates: asking the outgoing senior class to select a faculty speaker for the incoming freshman class.” In this case, the Class of 2018 chose Hall to address the Class of 2022 -- and the entire Bates community. His talk was titled, “Questions for Bates.” . Immediately following Convocation, members of the Bates community attended a brief tree-planting ceremony, on the Quad behind Carnegie Science, held in memory of those in the Bates community who died during the past year. The ceremony was followed by a lunch will be served on the Library Quad for the college community.
Fall foliage brightens the Historic Quad.
Hathorn Hall at dusk
Interior views of the Chase Hall Purposeful Work seating and curved "quote" wall.
Fall foliage peaks on the Historic Quad.

Students

Student Lucy Faust ’19
Samantha Fellers '19 of Mendham, N.J.
Fuller Cropped
Gerald Nelson '19

Figures and Report Graphics

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Getting involved with Purposeful Work at Bates is simple. Sign up for one of our mailing lists, or contact us directly at:

Bates Center for Purposeful Work
146 Wood Street
Lewiston, ME 04240
1-207-786-6232
purposefulwork@bates.edu
Media Inquiries
Marjorie Hall
Director of Strategic Communications
1-207-740-8746
mhall@bates.edu

Learn more about Purposeful Work

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