The value of a university education extends beyond knowledge


A debate has emerged in recent years as to whether a college education is really worth it. After all, it is argued, emotional intelligence is a better indicator of success than academic learning. And universities don’t teach these skills, do they?

Well it turns out they do. This is emerging from new Australian research, which reveals that a university education has a positive impact on two key personality traits: extroversion and pleasantness.

“We can see quite clearly that the personalities of students change when they go to college,” Sonja Kassenboehmer of Monash University, lead author of the article, said, announcing the results. “It’s good news that universities not only seem to teach subject-specific skills, but also seem to be successful in shaping skills valued by employers and society. “

The study, published in the journal Oxford Economic Papers, followed 575 Australian adolescents over eight years. Their level of each of the “big five” personality traits – openness to experience, conscientiousness, extroversion, friendliness and neuroticism – was measured in surveys taken just after graduating from high school, and again four and eight years later. .

Thirty-three percent of the participants ended up attending college, and the researchers found that after controlling for various factors that could influence personality development, including gender, health, and socioeconomic status, the experience had makes a significant difference.

First, they report that “young people who enter college, or (who graduate), have significantly higher levels of extraversion” than their peers who have entered the labor market. suggests that a university education can reverse this trend.

And that has major advantages. The American Psychological Association noted that extroverts “often have better social interactions that help them build relationships with other people. This social skill gives extroverts a distinct advantage when it comes to networking for a new job or getting noticed by the boss for a promotion. “

Importantly, each additional year spent at a university was associated with higher levels of extraversion. This suggests that the effect is likely due to “exposure to university life” rather than “what is taught in the classroom”.

A university education “encourages participation in club activities, social activities and communication with other students and academic staff on an ongoing basis,” the researchers write.

“In addition, university education is associated with higher levels of accreditation for students from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds,” they add. These students “started from the lowest baseline scores” for this personality trait, but experienced “the steepest growth curve” during their college years.

This suggests that in terms of cooperation and consideration, “university students from disadvantaged backgrounds are catching up with their peers from more privileged backgrounds,” the researchers write. “This is probably due to exposure to new peer groups and / or extracurricular activities. “

As an interesting aside, Kassenboehmer and colleagues note that Australian student life is less campus-centered than in the United States or Britain. Only around 5% of Australian university students live in residences, while 35% live with their parents. It’s entirely possible that the impact of higher education is even greater among American students, who are more likely to leave home and live on campus.

None of this implies that there is only one way to develop the personality traits that will serve you well for life. But it does suggest that a college is a great place to pick them up. And who knows? – you might even learn a few things in the process.


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