Jake Eichengreen // Success: It’s Not Just About Getting a Degree

February 1, 2019

Jake Eichengreen is the Executive Director of the Quad Innovation Partnership.

We define success as the ability to find and sustain meaningful work.

What constitutes meaningful work is entirely subjective. For each of us, it’s a slightly different – yet no less magic – combination of impact, growth, challenge, ability, results and income that brings purpose, comfort and satisfaction.

Why do we choose a definition of success tied to subjective perceptions of meaning? In an age of increasing scrutiny on the value of a college degree, why not set the bar at something more objective or quantifiable?

We know how much education costs. We know how tempting it is to frame the returns of education purely in dollars and cents. It’s also convenient. We can point to the 18-26 percent income jump that comes with an Associate’s degree or the 60-65 percent jump with a Bachelor’s as an easy, apples-to-apples type comparison. But those figures barely scratch the surface. The true returns of leveraging what you learn at college are much, much bigger.

These returns are measured in things like quality of life, finding answers to questions we’ve long found captivating and in new opportunities created for ourselves and others. They’re the ability to satisfy our internal curiosity, to find wonder and intrigue and to contribute in whatever way we find most worthwhile. They allow us to do what we want, what we can and what we dream.

This definition of success commits us to supporting these bigger outcomes for our students. It’s about more than getting our students a job. We are committed to getting them a life. A good life.

In today’s economy, some academic disciplines have more obvious and accessible links to meaningful work than others. That doesn’t mean any discipline is superior – or inferior – to another; just that the realities of the 21st century economy often make the transition from college to meaningful, satisfying career more straightforward for some.

Some backgrounds and identities also enjoy this privilege. Students that come to us from stable, high-expectation high schools and households typically find success in and after school easiest to attain. Students from other backgrounds are no less deserving of success. And, they have just as much to contribute.

At the Quad, we are committed to forging new paths to meaningful work for all students, regardless of what they study or where they come from. We know that it takes differences of identity and perspective to build worthwhile things. We are the only higher education partnership in the country to combine the unique perspectives and abilities of a private liberal arts college, a community college, a state university and a US Service Academy, and the value we deliver to all our students, project sponsors and partner schools is built on that diversity.

This semester, we are supporting more paths for more students than ever. Applications just closed for five projects that will support almost 30 student positions. We actively solicit applications from all majors and backgrounds and evaluate candidates on the basis of how ready they are to contribute. Selected students will lead themselves through the next 10 weeks, closely supported by our staff and faculty, and will conclude the Spring with the experience, ability and network to find and sustain meaningful work for the rest of their lives.

I’m looking forward to the journey.