Catholic university graduates more likely to report higher fulfillment, ideal life and that morality is extremely important in decision-making

A comprehensive new study challenges the current narrative around the value of higher education. It reveals that the benefits of a college education extend significantly beyond mere financial gains, impacting graduates’ lives with contentment and a stronger sense of direction, increased fulfillment and a greater focus on moral decision-making.

This study, commissioned by St. Mary’s University and conducted by YouGov, showcases how the educational experience of higher education, particularly at Catholic universities, is instrumental in preparing students not just for the workforce, but also for a fulfilled and meaningful life. This holistic approach to learning fosters essential life skills that contribute to the well-being and societal engagement of graduates.

Jason King, Ph.D., Named Beirne Director for St. Mary’s Center for Catholic Studies
Jason King

“For over 20 years, I’ve personally witnessed students learn and grow in the classroom. Recently, I have become increasingly concerned that the national conversation on the value of higher education is being reduced to a single metric: earning potential,” said Jason King, Ph.D., Beirne Director of Center for Catholic Studies and Chair in Catholic Studies at St. Mary’s University. “In partnership with YouGov, we set out to explore the long-term impact of higher education on the whole student, not just their future salary.”

Key findings from the study include:

  • Ideal life perception and sense of direction: Catholic university graduates are 10% more likely to report that their life closely matches their ideal and 9% more likely to have a clear sense of direction in life.
  • Social and community fulfillment: Catholic university graduates are 15% more likely to feel fulfilled in their social life and 13% more likely to feel fulfilled in their community involvement.
  • Morality in decision-making: Catholic university graduates are 19% more likely to say that the various aspects of morality surveyed are extremely important in decision-making.
  • No discerning difference in surprising areas: While Catholic universities have long championed their approach to supporting marriage and building resiliency grounded in faith, there were no discernible differences between graduates of Catholic and secular universities regarding fulfillment in romantic relationships or in being resilient during and after setbacks in life.

“While the findings on marriage and relationships might seem unexpected given the emphasis Catholicism places on these topics, they align with lack of consensus on Catholic campuses on the best practices for approaching relationships,” King said. “More research is needed to determine if certain schools are making a positive impact and to understand the reasons behind their success.”

This research not only counters the prevailing conversations that prioritize financial outcomes, but also highlights the profound influence that educational institutions can exert on the broader aspects of a graduate’s life.

By demonstrating tangible benefits in personal development and societal contribution, the findings advocate for a reevaluation of how we measure the success of higher education. It’s clear that the impact extends well beyond the classroom, influencing individuals’ ethical frameworks, community interactions and overall life satisfaction.

“Education is about more than just earning potential. It should be about developing leaders, thinkers and citizens who value and contribute to their communities,” said Winston Erevelles, Ph.D., President of St. Mary’s University.

St. Mary’s University continues to lead in integrating these values into its approach to education, ensuring that its students benefit from an expansive approach to learning.

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