Welcome (and welcome back) to all our students. So here’s an unexpected question for you: Are college students at Alvernia and elsewhere really heading to school this fall to get engaged and live happily ever after? It turns out the smart ones are, and the research proves it.

Unlike Alvernia students from a generation or two ago, you probably can’t imagine heading to the altar any time soon. Yet many today are discovering that getting engaged on campus brings big benefits later on. No, not wedding bells.  For this is a very different kind of engagement: active involvement in academic and social clubs, leadership roles, internships, academic research, community service, the arts, and athletics, among other activities.

Such experiences, according to a recent Gallop/Purdue University study “Great Job, Great Lives,” make the largest impact when it comes to determining how well you are prepared for a successful life after college. Forget focusing on pricey elite schools with big brand names. The national study that surveyed 30,000 college grads makes it clear: it’s not where you go to college that counts most toward your future success and long-term well-being; it’s what you do while you’re here.

For students enrolled at Alvernia or any of the many high quality but less well-known, small and medium-sized schools across the country, this is good news indeed. The report suggests that far more than the selectivity or sticker price of an institution, whatstudents do in college and how they get engaged on campus plays a greater role in contributing to a better life after graduation.  

And when it comes to student engagement, Alvernia stands out! More than 98% of our students participate in at least one “real-world” learning opportunity; 86% are involved in a co/extracurricular organization, athletic team or service project with 70% active in two or more!

There is more good news. According to the report, engaged students become engaged employees (who are highly involved and enthusiastic about their work). And engaged employees become productive, thriving people at a rate almost five times greater than their less-engaged colleagues. If students have an internship or other real-world experience where they apply what they learn in the classroom or if they are involved in extracurricular activities or projects taking a semester or longer to complete, their odds of being engaged at work double.

At a time when politicians and pundits are ignoring student learning and are instead preoccupied with the financial “return on investment” of a college degree, here is an appealing bottom line for all students: active involvement in engaged learning during your college years pays dividends long after you turn your tassel and toss your mortarboard at the Santander Arena (or in the PEC for you winter grads!)

For universities committed to serving the common good as well as fostering individual success, the impact is clear: community-based learning and civic engagement opportunities foster student engagement and experiential learning which in turn benefit both students and communities. The evidence was, as usual, on display here at Alvernia as I listened to the stories of the almost 500 students and faculty who “engaged” in our annual Orientation Day of Service, turning an old fruit farm into a dynamic environmental education hub as part of Berks County's Antietam Lake Park.

As my wife and I saw first-hand recently during several student dinners at our home, it is evident too in the passionate and active involvement of our student leaders—SGA folks, RAs, OAs, OWLs, Peer Mentors and Tutors, Student Tour guides and Ambassadors. And the list goes on.

Recent surveys confirm that Alvernia undergraduates are far more engaged than peers at other similar schools. And in addition, as a Catholic university, your faculty and staff here embrace our responsibility to help shape women and men of character and conscience, the kind of committed citizens essential for a free democracy--what we at Alvernia, faithful to our Franciscan heritage, call “ethical leaders with moral courage.”

Student engagement (not the wedded bliss type!) prepares future graduates to contribute to the common good and to be successful professionals. Both are important, as you hear us say--doing well and doing good.  All colleges and universities, as at Alvernia, should be in the business of emphasizing both.

So yes, getting engaged in college may be a noble goal. And it can indeed enable you, our students, to live happily ever after.


Peace and All Good, Tom Flynn

Flynn Files