By BRANDON BUSTEED [Gallup] — There are many ways that lifelong learning could be measured. One way is by asking activity-based questions such as how many books or articles someone reads, whether they do research on the Internet, visit a library, have a conversation with someone from a foreign country, engage in debates about important issues with their friends, or cast an informed vote in an election, etc. Decades of Gallup research about what it means to be engaged in your work and thriving in your overall well-being suggests there is a simple but powerful measure of lifelong learning — to ask the direct question: “Do you learn something new or interesting every day?” It’s highly likely that a person doing any of the activity-based measures of learning described above would most certainly agree with this statement.
Gallup asked this question of a representative sample of more than 170,000 adults across the U.S. in 2014, and we cut the data by varying levels of educational attainment. What we learned is there’s no difference whatsoever in the likelihood that college graduates agree with this question compared with those with any lower level of education — even those without a high school diploma! [One possible explanation here. — Ed.] It turns out that only postgraduate or professional degree exposure or attainment moves the needle on lifelong learning, as measured by whether someone agrees that they learn something new or interesting every day.
What an unbelievable disappointment. So much for the promise of a bachelor’s degree leading to lifelong learning. Time to modify the mission statements! Lifelong learning? Only for those for who reach postgraduate or professional degree levels.
Yes, on average, people with college degrees make a lot more money over their lifetime than those without a degree. This is one important outcome of a degree. The academic world, however, is quick to dismiss purely economic outcomes as the sole purpose of higher education and for good reason. The common refrain then goes something like, “Yes, but it’s not just about a job, it’s about creating lifelong learners and engaged citizens.” At which point everyone just nods approvingly without ever demanding any evidence. It’s time to start digging for that evidence — and quickly! So far, what Gallup has found doesn’t look very good…