Higher Education’s “Interesting” Role in Student Engagement and Success

“What do you want to be when be you grow up?”

At kindergarten graduations, teachers often ask every student that question. The answers are both charming and amusing. Here are a few responses from actual kindergartners:

  • “Batman so I can fly and save people”
  • “An astronaut and a teacher”
  • “A sample lady at Costco”


While their answers will probably evolve over time, those little graduates are a wonderful example of the potential of interests to shape our future. Even though it might be tricky to land a job as a superhero in Gotham City, perhaps that student will go on to be a doctor who saves lives. Or a humanitarian who fights for social justice. No matter what the future holds, their unique interests can help guide them.

In the last post, we covered interests in the context of career exploration. Most people understand that interests are relatively important when choosing a college major or a career, but there’s often a lack of structure and intention in that journey.

The reality is that interest-focused education can be incredibly helpful for student success.

The reality is that interest-focused education (i.e., interest assessments and career pathway tools) can be incredibly helpful for student success. After all, interest leads to student engagement.

Interested, Engaged Students Earn Better Grades and Finish Their Degrees

Engagement has become widely regarded as a critical factor in educational success. If an opportunity (i.e., a major or program) genuinely interests a student, they’ll be more motivated to pursue it. In The National Survey of Student Engagement: Conceptual and Empirical Foundations, Dr. George D. Kuh insists that engagement is the metric by which colleges and universities should evaluate their efforts:

“When the history of American higher education is rewritten years from now, one of the storylines . . . likely will be the emergence of student engagement as an organizing construct for institutional assessment, accountability, and improvement efforts.”

Dr. Kuh goes on to explain that if students become active, interested participants in their education, they’ll be prepared for a well-rounded, satisfying life after college. Research from Dr. James Rounds and Dr. Rong Su supports this. They found that students’ interests are:

  • 35.4% predictive of degree attainment
  • 21.7% predictive of college persistence
  • 26.6% predictive of grades in college


Student interests are 21.7% predictive of college persistence

This means that when students understand and follow their interests while in school, they’re more likely to finish their degree programs, get through the challenges of higher education, and earn better grades.

This data opens up a larger conversation about how students deserve to understand the ways their classes align with their interests and goals. For example, many students lament general education requirements that seem to have nothing to do with what they’re really interested in. A staggering number of otherwise capable, gifted students end up leaving college during the first two years as they struggle with those core courses. The National Center for Education Statistics found that the six-year graduation rate for first-time, full-time undergraduate students was only 63%.

With interest assessments, career pathway guidance, and a healthy dose of self-awareness, students can get and stay on the right track – especially when those things are part of the pre-college or first-year experience. For example, the SuperStrong® assessment helps students discover the academic and career potential their unique interests hold.

Interests Can Help Predict Income and Career Satisfaction  

Interests are also 83% more predictive of future income than either ability or personality. They’re so tied to occupational outcomes that a deficit in interest could lead to career failure. In Factors Influencing Students’ Career Choices, researchers offer empirical evidence from business students:

“The results of the study revealed that ‘interest in the subject’ is the most dominant factor influencing career choices . . . lack of interest in the subject is dangerous, and could end up in disastrous results . . . The study results are indicative of the importance of students counseling sessions and other interventions to provide them with updated knowledge, and information . . .”

We all have interests, but it takes strategy and intention to help students figure out how to leverage them. We’re here to help. And as for those kindergarten graduates? We’ll be around to help them too.


Higher Education’s “Interesting” Role in Student Engagement and Success

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