A recent survey by the Center for Engaged Learning and the Elon University Poll explored the types of meaningful learning experiences college graduates had while in school and how college helped them develop skills they’re applying in their professional careers. The November 2021 survey of over 1,800 US college graduates under the age of 35 complements our 2019 survey and suggests that graduates’ perceptions of these experiences haven’t changed much, despite the interceding pandemic.

Among the key findings:

  • Internships or work placements continue to be the most common high-impact experience students participate in during college, with 50% of participants taking part in at least one (compared to 52% in 2019).
  • Most participants reported receiving feedback from faculty or staff on a submitted, final project, with 71% encountering this type of feedback multiple times (compared to 72% in 2019).
  • 55% of graduates report having multiple meaningful relationships with faculty or staff during college, which is a slight increase from the 2019 survey when 52% of participants indicated they had developed multiple meaningful relationships.
  • 64% of graduates somewhat or strongly agree that their college experience prepared them well for the work they have done since graduating.
  • Most graduates still believe attending college was “worth it” for them personally, considering both the costs and benefits of their college experiences (with 85% reporting college was probably or definitely worth it, compared to 84% in 2019).

The survey asked college graduates about nine college/university experiences that correspond with several features of high-impact practices (Kuh, O’Donnell, and Schneider 2017) and with the key practices for engaged learning (Moore 2021):

 NeverOnceMultiple Times
Faculty who asked you to draw on prior experiences when you learned new things14.8%23.7%61.4%
Meaningful relationships with faculty or staff16.4%29.1%54.5%
Meaningful relationships with other students9.8%21.1%69.1%
Feedback from peers to guide your work before you submitted a final version12.5%22.8%64.7%
Feedback from faculty/staff to guide your work before you submitted a final version11.2%23.7%65.1%
Feedback from faculty/staff on a submitted, final project7.6%20.9%71.4%
Practice with real-world applications of what you were learning11.6%24.8%63.6%
Opportunities to reflect on how the different parts of your college experience fit together17.4%25.0%57.6%
Opportunities to reflect on how what you were learning would apply to your future10.6%22.4%67.0%

Graduates also indicated whether they had taken part in six of the eleven designated high-impact educational practices (AAC&U, n.d.):

  • 50.3% participated in internships or work placements,
  • 35.7% engaged in service learning or community-engaged learning,
  • 32.1% participated in undergraduate research,
  • 31.9% completed a capstone project or experience,
  • 20.1% studied abroad, and
  • 18.4% composed an ePortfolio.

The 2021 survey added questions about the significance of relationships during college. Over 70% of college graduates indicated that the educational relationships they developed with peers, faculty, and staff were very or extremely important to their overall success in college. Graduates were most likely to build those relationships with fellow students.

For more details, read the complete report about the survey and watch for additional information about the 2021 poll later this year.


AAC&U (Association of American Colleges and Universities). n.d. “High-Impact Educational Practices.” https://www.aacu.org/trending-topics/high-impact.

Kuh, George, Ken O’Donnell, and Carol Geary Schneider. 2017. “HIPs at Ten.” Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning 49 (5): 8-16. https://10.1080/00091383.2017.1366805.

Moore, Jessie L. 2021. “Key Practices for Fostering Engaged Learning.” Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning 53 (6): 12-18. https://10.1080/00091383.2021.1987787.

Jessie L. Moore is Director of the Center for Engaged Learning and Professor of Professional Writing & Rhetoric in Elon University’s Department of English. She also teaches in Elon’s Masters of Higher Education program. In 2021, Dr. Moore received Elon University’s Distinguished Scholar Award for her research on engaged learning, the writing lives of college students and alumni, and multi-institutional scholarship of teaching and learning.

Jason Husser is Director of the Elon University Poll and Associate Professor of Political Science & Policy Studies at Elon University. Dr. Husser holds a Ph.D. in Political Science from Vanderbilt University. He researches American political behavior and survey methodology.

Kaye Usry is Assistant Director of the Elon University Poll and Assistant Professor of Political Science & Policy Studies at Elon University. She received her Ph.D. from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Her research interests are in American politics and political psychology.

Peter Felten is Executive Director of the Center for Engaged Learning, Assistant Provost for Teaching and Learning, and Professor of History at Elon University. He has published six books about undergraduate education including most recently (with Leo Lambert) Relationship-Rich Education: How Human Connections Drive Success in College (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2020).

How to Cite This Post

Moore, Jessie L., Jason Husser, Kaye Usry, and Peter Felten. 2022. “Meaningful Learning Experiences and the Value of a College Degree.” Center for Engaged Learning (blog), Elon University. May 24, 2022. https://www.centerforengagedlearning.org/meaningful-learning-experiences-and-the-value-of-a-college-degree.