The Purposeful Graduate: Why Colleges Must Talk to Students About Vocation by Tim Clydesdale (review)
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Reviewed by
Tim Clydesdale. The Purposeful Graduate: Why Colleges Must Talk to Students About Vocation. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, 2015. 334pp. Hardcover: $27.50. ISBN: 0-226-23634-X

Accountability is not new to higher education, but with rising college costs and budget cuts, coupled with high unemployment rates, higher education is under increased pressure to do more with less. In addition, everyone, from parents to policymakers, seems to place the blame on colleges and universities for not better preparing college graduates for the workforce. In his book, The Purposeful Graduate, Dr. Tim Clydesdale, professor of sociology at the College of New Jersey, defends higher education, arguing that “macroinstitutional pressures... have kept graduate median incomes flat” and “macrocultural changes...have extended paths to adulthood” (p. xvi). However, based on Clydes-dale’s empirical study on the Lilly Endowment’s Programs for the Theological Exploration of Vocation (PTEV) Initiative, The Purposeful Graduate provides a compelling argument for colleges and universities to engage undergraduate students in meaningful discourse “exploring purpose and vocation creatively and intentionally” (p. 41).

Comprised of a preface, seven chapters, and several appendices, at first glance, The Purposeful Graduate appears to be a 334-page-long program evaluation report. However, it is more than just a report; in fact, prefaced in the context of Deblanco’s (2012) College: What it Was and How it Should Be; Arum and Roksa’s (2010) Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses; Keeling and Hersh’s (2011) We’re Losing Our Minds: Rethinking American Higher Education; and Astin, Astin, and Lindholm’s (2010) Cultivating the Spirit: How College Can Enhance Students’ Inner Lives, Clydesdale centers his book as part of a larger conversation about college students’ purpose and holistic development.

The major impetus of this book focuses on purpose exploration programs, defined as “programming that would foster campus conversations about questions of meaning and purpose” (p. 3). Clydesdale begins each chapter with a metaphor or real-life example from his study. In the preface, Clydesdale compares purpose exploration programs to gardens, suggesting that with care from knowledgeable professionals, both have the potential to cultivate growth and produce incredible results. Moreover, Clydesdale argues that purpose exploration programs increase student engagement, help students prepare for their future, and encourage students to succeed in and after college.

In Chapter 1, Clydesdale provides an overview of his empirical study of 88 religiously-affiliated colleges and universities funded by the Lilly Endowment, which granted upwards of $225 million dollars to design and implement purpose exploration programs that would “foster campus conversations about meaning and purpose, and in particular their religious underpinnings” (p. 3). Through the use of multiple data sources, including surveys and interviews with students, faculty, and staff, Clydesdale sought to understand what set successful programs of purpose exploration apart from unsuccessful ones and how purpose exploration programs affected college students. Although the degree of religious affiliation of each college and university varied, each institution shared a commitment to having thoughtful engagement of vocational calling through numerous programmatic initiatives.

Conducting panel interviews with 125 college graduates—60 of whom had participated in exploration programs and 65 of whom had not—Clydesdale found that the students who participated in exploration programs gained a sense of “grounded idealism” and “resilience and persistence” that would ultimately carry over beyond graduation (p. 18). A key strength of this chapter was the manner in which Clydesdale presented student profiles. By examining and contrasting the college experiences and career trajectories of three students (using pseudonyms) who participated in exploration programs with three students who did not, Clydesdale “[demonstrates] the efficaciousness of campus-based exploration programs” (p. 20). Clydesdale concludes Chapter 1 with an overview of the book’s aims while imagining the possibilities about what higher education institutions look like when “genuine learning and passionate purposes unite” (p. 26).

Clydesdale begins Chapter 2 by highlighting a Jesuit institution’s programming initiatives that consisted of internships, service trips, courses and seminars; campus-wide lecture series and concerts; and a weekend retreat for upperclass students to discuss purpose. While acknowledging the achievements and missteps of each individual event, Clydesdale praised their programmatic efforts and commitment to evaluating and improving...


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