New Research Reveals Importance of Purpose in Preparing College Graduates for the Workforce

Bates College-Gallup survey findings uncover how colleges and universities can better prepare students for the future of work

LEWISTON, Maine--()--Bates College and Gallup today released findings from a nationally representative survey examining the role that purpose plays in the work lives of college graduates. “Forging Pathways to Purposeful Work: The Role of Higher Education” provides insight into the importance of purpose in work, for both individuals and employers, and how colleges and universities can better prepare graduates to succeed in a complex, global market.

Representing the views of over 3,000 respondents, including college graduates, hiring managers, and parents of college students, the report reveals a significant gap between what college graduates seek from work and what they find:

  • Eighty percent of college graduates surveyed said that it is very important (37 percent) or extremely important (43 percent) to derive a sense of purpose from their work.
  • Yet less than half of college graduates succeed in finding purpose in work.

This “purpose gap” is a problem for both graduates and employers, because there is a strong correlation between employees’ engagement in work and an organization’s bottom line. The purpose gap is also a particular problem for millennials – the largest single segment of the American workforce – as purposeful work appears particularly important to them. Specifically, the study found that millennials are more likely than older graduates to derive purpose from their work than from other sources.

Importantly, the survey also points to solutions, identifying four key college experiences that align with graduates finding purpose in work:

  • Participating in at least one applied internship or job.
  • Having someone who encourages students’ goals and dreams.
  • Being given realistic expectations for post-graduation employment prospects.
  • Participating in a class/program that helps students think about pursuing meaning in work.

“The Bates-Gallup study confirms that a focus on helping students find purpose in work is a powerful way of developing in students the kind of agency they need to thrive in today’s world,” said Bates College President Clayton Spencer. “Higher education has long played a central role in improving the career and life prospects of students, and this study provides clear guidance about how colleges and universities can do a better job of carrying out this role.”

The study also makes clear that students should not simply chase jobs or careers that have superficial appeal. According to the study, reflection and self-awareness play a key role in launching graduates into work that will bring them meaning:

  • Graduates who align their work with their interests, values, and strengths are roughly three times more likely to experience high purpose in work.
  • Graduates with high levels of purpose in their work are nearly 10 times more likely to have high overall wellbeing than those with low levels of purpose in work.

“Previous Gallup studies have identified the college experience as critical to the path take,” said Helen Stubbs, a senior consultant at Gallup who oversaw the study. “Our research with Bates adds a new dimension that elevates the individual's psychological and emotional alignment with their chosen career path. Where colleges can apply these new findings to their work with students, they stand to accelerate pathways to meaningful work and to produce graduates who thrive as individuals."

This study with Gallup arose from Bates’ interest to test the premises of its Purposeful Work program. Established in 2014 and built on the fundamentals of a liberal arts education, the Purposeful Work program at Bates is grounded in the college’s mission, has curricular and co-curricular aspects, and takes a four-year developmental approach to working with students to better prepare them for the evolving worlds of work.

“In a world where the average college graduate can expect to have 11 distinct jobs before the age of 50, many of which do not yet exist, graduates can no longer count on stable and well-defined pathways through working life,” said Spencer. “Colleges and universities need to help students develop not only the content knowledge and cognitive and interpersonal skills required for employment, but also a mindset of informed self-determination and adaptability.”

To view complete findings from the Bates-Gallup survey, download the “Forging Pathways to Purposeful Work: The Role of Higher Education” at

About Bates College
Located in Lewiston, Maine, Bates is internationally recognized as a leading college of the liberal arts, attracting 2,000 students from across the U.S. and around the world. Since 1855, Bates has been dedicated to educating the whole person through creative and rigorous scholarship in a collaborative residential community. Committed to opportunity and excellence, Bates has always admitted students without regard to gender, race, religion, or national origin. Cultivating intellectual discovery and informed civic action, Bates prepares leaders sustained by a love of learning and zeal for responsible stewardship of the wider world.

About Gallup
Gallup delivers analytics and advice to help leaders and organizations solve their most pressing problems. Combining more than 80 years of experience with its global reach, Gallup knows more about the attitudes and behaviors of employees, customers, students and citizens than any other organization in the world.


Media Contact
Marjorie Hall
(207) 740-8746

Release Summary

Bates College and Gallup released findings from a national survey examining the role that purpose plays in the work lives of college graduates.



Media Contact
Marjorie Hall
(207) 740-8746