As Funders Differ on Whether College is Worth It, Lumina Backs Study of Success Outcomes

There's no debate that educational institutions and funders are interested in college readiness. Foundations large and small operate funding programs designed to boost college readiness, lower barriers to access, and help more students, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, achieve postsecondary success.

Funding for college readiness is so hot these days, we've written a whole guide to what foundations are doing in this space, which you can check out here.

But as higher education costs—and student loan debts—skyrocket, and as many graduates struggle to find jobs, some voices have asked if a college education is worth it. Could it be that all this emphasis on college readiness is preparing many kids for the wrong next step?

While the general consensus is that higher education remains a worthwhile, if costly, investment, more funders are interested in exploring the ins and outs of this issue. Other funders are actively supporting alternatives to college—like Peter Thiel, who is laying out money to help young people bypass college altogether. We also wrote recently about how Charles Koch has taken a keen interest post-secondary vocational education. 

The Lumina Foundation wants to explore issues of college success in greater depth. Recently, the foundation awarded a $2 million grant to develop a tool for measuring graduates' workplace success and personal satisfaction—two of the most important outcomes of a college education.

Lumina is dedicated to increasing college access and success across the country. Its "Goal 2025" initiative calls for increasing the proportion of Americans with postsecondary credentials to 60 percent by the year 2025. With this new grant, the Indianapolis-based foundation hopes to find out if college diplomas are paying off in career success and overall satisfaction. Lumina awarded the grant to Purdue University in Indiana, which will partner with the Gallup organization to develop the Purdue-Gallup Index. This measure will be a benchmarking tool for colleges and universities across the country to measure graduates' career success and personal satisfaction.

Purdue and Gallup will develop this tool based on an annual survey of 30,000 college graduates that will explore the following dimensions of well-being: purpose, social, physical, financial, and community. The measure will be updated annually.

"In the national drive to increase college attainment and meet the growing need for talent, better and more explicit information about the outcomes of higher education is essential," according to Jamie Merisotis, Lumina's president and CEO. "This index will do just that by providing powerful new evidence to measure whether colleges and universities deliver on the improved life and job outcomes that Americans expect of them."