Brandon Busteed: “Making a Hard Case for Soft Measures”

Brandon Busteed, Executive Director of Education and Workforce Development at Gallup, joined the second day of TLISI 2016 to present “We Are What We Measure,” a passionate argument for the utility of tracking non-traditional measures of student success after graduation from college, and using these numbers to evaluate student outcomes. The presentation began from the observation that “lifelong learning,” while the number one phrase used in mission statements at colleges and universities, is not quantitatively evaluated in alumni populations.

Big data metrics tend to rely upon traditional economic measures of success, but Busteed argued for the place of what are sometimes understood as behavioral economic measures when evaluating lifelong learning outcomes. While classic economic measures consist of grades, test scores, and graduation rates, behavioral economic measures comprise such concepts as well-being, engagement, and hope. Gallup has discovered how to implement these non-traditional metrics to track student outcomes after graduation, and Busteed spent some time during the presentation pointing out where the information captured under these scales diverges from, or even outpaces, information captured under previous economic measures.

In particular, Busteed noted that many companies see GPA as far too unreliable for use in hiring practices, suggesting that the large emphasis placed on grades by many colleges and universities should perhaps be rethought. Students should be encouraged to understand other measures of success—such as the outcome of a great job and a great life—which Gallup measures through their hope, well-being, and workplace engagement indices.

The breathtaking findings from the Gallup study indicate that a student’s feeling of well-preparedness for life outside of college correlates linearly to such “Big Six” college experiences as mentorship and inversely correlates with how much student loan debt one has upon graduation. Attendees at this plenary, hosted as part of the Engelhard Project “Conversations on Educating the Whole Person” series, came away with a greater understanding of the effect of their own engagement at their jobs on student lifelong learning outcomes and what it means to “thrive” in life after graduation.