By Will Johnson ’02

Twenty-one years ago, I was in your shoes—and cap and gown. In many ways, we would probably find each other’s college experiences unrecognizable. Yet important experiences and traditions endure, like The Rivalry with Lehigh. These kindred bonds are also true for you and your peers across the country facing this same rite of passage.

Understanding the significance of this moment—not only for you and your families but the nation as a whole—I initiated a Harris Poll survey of graduating college students around the U.S. I wanted to get a snapshot of how your rising generation feels about your educational experiences.

Will Johnson '02 , CEO of The Harris Poll (Photo by Macy J. Foronda)

Will Johnson ’02 , CEO of The Harris Poll (Photo by Macy J. Foronda)

As someone who’s been polling the public for a large portion of my career, I can also say the survey findings reinforce my view that Americans, across demographic groups, are far less polarized than we may seem in the realms of politics and social media. And as a pollster—someone professionally dedicated to deciphering the world as it is—I feel uniquely situated to offer some thoughts on the eve of your commencement.

Here’s an exclusive sneak peek at our poll and the state of the Class of 2023 nationwide.

  • You are glad you went to college. At public and private schools alike, nine of 10 people receiving a bachelor’s degree are satisfied with their field of study, and eight in 10 are happy with the school they chose.
  • You believe that college is a smart choice, for yourselves and others too. Again, nine of 10 four-year grads, at public and private schools alike, say their education will enable them to achieve the lifestyle they want. That same percentage also thinks a college degree is the best way for people to secure their future.
  • Your school choices were deeply pragmatic. Four in 10 grads say they chose their college or university because it offered a scholarship or grant. The only factor that mattered more was the school’s degree program, with half saying that swayed their decision. Almost nine in 10 also say they chose their major because it seemed it would lead to a well-compensated job.
  • Your paths are diverging. Just over half of graduates say their immediate plan is to get paid work, with a third saying they’re going to go on to school for another degree and the remaining 11 percent looking to take time off or to do unpaid work like an internship.
  • Despite a drumbeat of reports of mass layoffs and hiring freezes, you probably have landed that first post-degree job. Three-quarters of grads have pursued employment in their field of study; and of them, 75% already have secured work. One in four, however, say the hunt has been hard.
  • You’re optimistic. Almost half of the Class of 2023 believe they’re better off than those who received their diplomas five years ago, and an additional 38% feel they’re about the same. Only 13% think that they’re worse off—a heartening figure given the tumult that marked their school years. And looking ahead, nearly half of grads also think the Class of 2028 will have it better while only 9% think they’ll have it worse. I applaud the faith that reflects in our country and futures.

Of course, no college experiences are universal. Ten percent of this year’s grads, for instance, think college wasn’t worth it, and 14 percent picked their major not because it seemed to ensure solid earnings, but because it just seemed right.

In one sense, graduation marks the end of a journey for you—or multiple journeys: four years here and more than a dozen years in school prior. This moment, however, is not an end of the road but a widening of it. You’re leaving a well-defined track laid out for you to one as broad and long as the horizon itself.

You never know what’s going to happen over the course of your career. Job markets and economies change. Your interests and needs will too. When I graduated from Lafayette with a bachelor’s degree in government and law in 2002, I left the comfort of Easton for my first job in New York City, never imagining that one day I’d be offering you insights from one of the world’s oldest and most-storied public opinion polling firms.

My years at Lafayette were indispensable to that journey because they gave me the ability to parse through the noise and recognize that much of the world is not about black-and-white extremes. Instead, it’s about understanding the nuances in the middle, about navigating uncertainty and trying to understand what’s likely to come next.

My hope is that all of you, my new fellow alums, find your postgraduate lives as fulfilling as your time at Lafayette has been.

Lafayette historically surpasses nationwide first destination data. To learn more about Lafayette graduates and their post-graduate plans, visit Lafayette’s First Destinations & Annual Report.


More about Will Johnson '02

  • Will Johnson ’02 graduated magna cum laude from Lafayette College with a bachelor’s degree in government and law in 2002. Johnson’s honors thesis examined the political significance of the Millennial generation, and his subsequent career has only built on that work, navigating the intersection of business, culture, and society—and the effects across all generations.
  • Johnson earned an MBA from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management in 2008. He went on to serve as president and chief strategist of WPP’s BrandAsset Valuator, the world’s largest study of brands and consumer and brand behavior, prior to becoming CEO of The Harris Poll in 2017. One of the oldest polling companies in the U.S., The Harris Poll has tracked the sentiment, behaviors, and motivations of Americans since 1963. Under Johnson’s leadership, the company has grown exponentially, transforming into a widely sourced arbiter of cultural and societal trends that counsels Fortune 500 companies and such institutions as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A nationally syndicated columnist, he regularly writes on matters of public opinion and is frequently cited in mainstream media.
  • Johnson lives in Chicago with his wife and two sons. He serves on the boards of local nonprofit organizations and is a member of such civic organizations as the Economic Club of Chicago and the Young Presidents’ Organization.
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