Differentiating Catholic Colleges and Universities through Comparative Alumni Research

By Day, James | Momentum, February/March 2008 | Go to article overview
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Differentiating Catholic Colleges and Universities through Comparative Alumni Research

Day, James, Momentum

The Catholic colleges and universities comparative alumni research project and the Values that Matter Campaign promoting it was introduced in the 2007 Catholic colleges section of Momentum. This article provides a more detailed look at the findings.

In summer 2006, the National Catholic College Admission Association (NCCAA) commissioned the firm of Hardwick-Day to conduct an alumni survey of Catholic college and university graduates from the years 1970 to 1999 and to analyze those results in comparison to responses of alumni who graduated from other types of institutions, especially public flagship universities.


Private colleges and universities must justify their higher tuition while competing against highly visible, taxsubsidized universities offering artificially low tuition. Consequently, for competitive reasons, it is important for private colleges to know whether the reported experiences of alumni support their claims of academic value, the value of their respective missions, and how the student experience compares with other types of institutions. In this era of accountability and assessment, it is important to understand avenues for improvement and to be able to document the extent to which institutions realize their unique missions.

Look, for example, at the US News and World Report rankings and examine reported student-faculty ratios or the percentage of classes with fewer than 20 students. One might conclude that big public universities are strikingly similar to smaller private colleges, offering strong undergraduate programs much less expensively than their private counterparts. The findings of this research tell another story. Few of those graduates from national public universities report an educational experience reflecting a 12:1 student-faculty ratio or smaller classes.

And so this research serves to differentiate private colleges and universities from public institutions generally, and National CCAA colleges and universities specifically, on the basis of factors that scholars have found to be most relevant to educational success. Further, these findings offer a measure of success relative to mission, while also providing an important understanding of how graduates assess their own outcomes once they are established in their careers. The questions related to financing education show how they paid for and value their student experience.

Higher education researchers have established that active learning-engagement and involvement between students and professors, between students themselves, between students and dynamic academic and co-curricular programs-is the chief source of educational success and college satisfaction.

The comparative alumni study used in this research was designed to test the findings Dr. Alexander Astin (1993) reported in his book "What Matters in College: Four Critical Years Revisited." Using data from UCLA's national survey of American freshmen, follow-up surveys and other data on those students, Astin's research documented the importance of the climate created by the interaction of faculty with students and between students, rather than the type of college or its facilities, in producing positive educational outcomes.

The Comparative Alumni Research conducted by Hardwick-Day asked alumni to reflect on aspects of engagement and interaction in their college experience. Analysis of the data from this study and many others validates the understanding that student engagement is what matters educationally, and documents the extent to which this engagement was present, significant and beneficial in the student experience of graduates of several types of institutions


Hardwick-Day began the comparative alumni research project in 1998 and has collected data from college graduates via telephone surveys conducted in 2006, 2003, 2002, 2001, 1999 and 1998. Alumni names were obtained from college and commercial sources.

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