College Happiness Study

A recent Gallup poll about college happiness has some interesting findings, but for some reason, every magazine and journal that is covering the story is fucking up the punchlines. Sigh. Let’s do it for them.

Vox covered the poll, but their lede is that college grads are happier than regular Americans. But then around paragraph 14, they admitted that the results don’t really show that. And then they missed the really interesting story, which is that the type of college (ie, private, public, selective, community) a person attends makes no difference in future happiness levels.

Apparently, only 10 to 12 percent of college graduates are “thriving in life” — whatever that means. None of the articles bothered to explain what that means. So, if you’re bound to hate life, you might as well attend a cheap school and end up with no debt.

And why are so many people miserable? Can we talk about that?


This article at PsyBlog starts off with the lede — “Only 14% of graduates strongly agreed that the professors cared about them.”

Well, if you go over to the Gallup website. It turns out that 64 percent of graduates strongly agreed with the statement, “I had at least one professor at [College} who made me excited about learning.” Only 14 percent agree with that statement AND  agreed that their professor cared about me as a person AND had a mentor. That’s still a pretty depressing finding, but it’s different from PsyBlog’s statement.




10 thoughts on “College Happiness Study

  1. I don’t know that people are miserable. The standard for happiness includes “I have enough money to do whatever I want” and “My physical health is near perfect,” among other things. I consider myself happy, but there are lots of things I can’t do for lack of money, and I have presbyopia, an inflamed rotator cuff, occasional sciatica, and very occasional asthma.

      1. Yikes. I do yoga to deal with some past injuries and issues, and I don’t want to create new ones. If I’m careful to stop before I feel real pain, is it easy to avoid those sorts of overuse injuries?

      2. A bit of overuse combined with slightly bad form catching up to me. It heals though.

        Main thing is to be scrupulous with form on any poses involving shoulders.

      1. Yeah. I would consider myself relatively successful and reasonably happy (setting aside a genetic predisposition towards depression and being in the midst of a somewhat difficult career rite of passage), but I wouldn’t be able to answer yes to all those. Even “near perfect health.” What does that mean? I am an objectively a healthy young person, but I have some minor issues (pinched shoulder nerve, pathologically tight hip flexors and hamstrings) that would prevent me from thinking myself in “perfect” health.

    1. based on those standards, I’m astonished that 11% of graduates have near-perfect health and enough money to do whatever they want.. seems more like a 1% kind of standard..

  2. It’s odd that they worded the questions so differently – why not “I had at least one professor who cared about me as a person” to parallel the question about making students excited about learning? More importantly would be something like “the professors I made an effort to get to know cared about me as a person” or “the professors I took a class with fewer than 20 students cared about me as a person.” I care about my students quite a lot (most of them, anyway!) but it’s hard to get that across in big classes.

  3. I also feel like those questions are designed for people looking to get different things out of college, so it’s not surprising only 6% answered yes to all of them. Some people want to go into an academic discipline and seek out faculty mentors. Other people are in college to learn some stuff, get a credential, and network to get a white collar job. I can imagine an econ major doing ok in his classes and taking advantage of his college’s alumni internship/externship program to intern at a investment bank. After he graduates, he gets a job at the place he interned at. His mentors were i-banker alumni, and his college gave him the basic skills, access, and credentials to get a job. Is he friends with his first year English prof or is macroeconomics prof? No. Do they know him as a person? No. Does he care? No. His college did right by him, and he got out of it what he wanted. Likewise, the college newspaper editor spends 30 hours a week on the paper. She uses that experience to get a job at a paper after graduation. Did she have a professor mentor her? No. Did she need one? No. And so on and so forth. Professors have a particular set of skills which really only matter if you want to get the same or similar set of skills. Otherwise, why do you really need your classics prof to mentor you? Same with caring about you as a person. Much of the growing administration positions are going to people whose full time job is to care about students as people. Students should also be developing peer friendship networks of people who care about them, ones which ideally will last long beyond college. A better way to gauge college experience would be to ask if students had any mentors, or anyone who cared about them as people.

  4. I was hanging out at a work party yesterday (my chair is retiring 😦 ), and of course we were trading the kinds of student stories you hear only in the last week before finals. One colleague was with a student in the elevator who was talking about how she was late to class (the class had started 90 minutes earlier) but she needed to show up to this class to tell her professor how serious she was about doing well in this class. Oh, and she was late because the day before her friend had taught her how to longboard (? Is that some kind of skateboarding thing?) and she was exhausted. And she seemed to have no sense of shame telling this to a professor. So we were talking about that and eventually decided that maybe students *do* have the work/life balance right, and maybe we should be more balanced, too. And then we all went to the bar to get another drink.

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