what’s most important (to students)

After conducting the Purposeful Degree Audit, the following week the students are asked to identify their’ most important values. We have them do a quick activity, “What’s Most Important to Me” to get them in the mindset of values exploration. We list 17 categories (plus other); some values intrinsically focused, some extrinsically focused. We use this as a tool to see what students value most – and to see where education fits in terms of importance.

In our “What Can I Do With My Life” class for the 2016 Spring Semester, we had 28 students complete the quick activity. The 28 students in two classes were asked to rank their top five values found most important in their lives right now. (Side note: This is a class of students who’ve had at least one semester of college under their belt; more than half of the class are of sophomore status). We found that the 28 students ranked their top 10 values as the following (number of responses in parentheses, out of 28 total):

#1 – Connecting/spending time with family, friends, others (25)
#2 – Being happy (16)
#3 – Living a fulfilling life.living a life with no regrets (15)
#4 – Being healthy in heart, mind, body, and spirit (14)
#5 – Making a difference in the world (10)
#6 (tie) – Helping/serving others (8)
#6 (tie) – Getting a job/being employed/having a career (8)
#6 (tie) – Being successful/achieving more (8)
#9 – Getting my degree/getting an education (6)
#10 – Practicing my religion/spirituality (5)

The other values include: Having fun/having a good time (4), Learning new things (4), Having money, money, and more money (3), Being great at something/becoming an expert (2), Planning for the future (2), Proving people wrong (0), Creating my own business (0), and Other (0).

Interestingly, getting a job, getting a degree, and making money were NOT in the top 5; the list illustrates that the students value connection and purpose as the important values in life.

In the 2015 Fall Semester, I also conducted the same activity with 125 first-year students; the activity was given after the 5 week of their first semester in college. Would the results be different if given to first-time freshmen students at the beginning of their college career? Well, here are the results (out of 125, responses in parentheses):

#1 – Connecting/spending time with family, friends, others (116)
#2 – Getting my degree/getting an education (80)
#3 – Being happy/enjoying life (73)
#4 – Being healthy (heart, mind, body, spirit) (62)
#5 – Practicing my religion/spirituality (58)
#6 – Getting a job/being employed/having a career (47)
#7 – Helping/serving others (43)
#8 – Being Successful/achieving more (36)
#9 – Living a fulfilling life/living a life with no regrets (25)
#10 – Having money, money, and more money (21)
#11 – Having fun/having a good time (20)
#12 – Making a difference in the world (16)
#13 – Planning for the future (11)
#14 – Learning new things (5)
#15 (tie) – Being great at something/becoming an expert (4)
#15 (tie) – Proving people wrong (4)
#15 (tie) – Other (4)
#18 – Creating my own business (2)

Again, connecting with others is far and away most important; getting a degree/education is now the second most important value. However, being happy and healthy again are important. Practicing one’s religion/spirituality is most important for almost half the students. And you can see that getting a job and helping/serving others are about equally important for students.  Bottom line: Although getting an education is important, how they develop as a person is much more important as a whole.

Most disturbing for me in both surveys are the results for “creating my own business.” In a world where at least 40-50% of the jobs will be independent workers by 2020 and as high as 90% by 2040, students are not thinking about creating their own job/business. I STRONGLY believe that students today need to develop the entrepreneurial mindset, especially for an economy that’s moving in that direction.

We teach the “What Can I Do With My Life” class with these results in mind.  Every class, students are either sharing their work with the entire class or with another student they have yet to meet.  Although they find it awkward at first to share with someone they don’t know. many share at the end of the semester that they are glad that they had an opportunity to meet a few other students.  We also challenge them to think about their values, strengths, gifts and talents, and previous “serving” experiences to identify meaningful work.  It’s our goal to have students look at this work as something that they can create, not something that they have to apply to.  It all contributes to developing the “whole” student.

I welcome any thoughts…

2 thoughts on “what’s most important (to students)

  1. Hi Bill,
    My name is Claudia Camacho. I attended your session at the On Course Conference last week. I was just browsing your blog for the The Tree of Contemplative Practices and came across this one. While reading, I was amazed at the results. I would like to have our nursing students take this survey. Do I have your permission to use your survey? I am curious to see what our students at South Texas College will answer. Will they have the same answers? I am willing to share the results with you.

    What do you think?

    • Hi Claudia. Feel free to use the survey, even modify it for your population. And yes, I would be curious to hear your results to see if they differ. Next Fall, I’ll be able to collect info on 300-400 students, that should provide even more insight.

      And thanks for attending the session; I hope that you found it useful. Let me know if I can be of service to you in the future. Take care and have a great day!

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