An enormous study of more than 30,000 American college students by Gallup and Purdue University finds that just 29 percent believe their school prepared them for life and that the bigger their student loan debt after graduating the worse their overall well-being.

In "Great Jobs, Great Lives," the first-ever "Gallup-Purdue Index" also upsets the commonly accepted view that Ivy Leaguers have it better than graduates of public schools.

"When it comes to finding the secret of success,” said the report provided to Secrets, “it’s not 'where you go,' it’s 'how you do it' that makes all the difference in higher education."

The survey, also done in partnership with the Lumina Foundation, is unusual in that it asked a huge pool of students about their experiences in college and how it relates to their well-being afterward in several areas such as their engagement at work, how they view their lives, their physical and financial situation and their attachment to alumni.

While many students said they thrive in one or a couple of the areas, only 11 percent said they are doing well in all, and they suggested that having a school and professor that cared about them made a difference.

"Graduates who had at least one professor who made them excited about learning, cared about them as a person, and was a mentor, have more than double the odds of being engaged at work and being thriving in well-being," said the report.

After-school debt also played a role. "Three times fewer graduates who took out between $20,000 and $40,000 in undergraduate student loan debt are thriving in their well-being compared with those with no school loan debt. Twenty-six percent of graduates with no debt have started their own business, compared with 16 percent for those with $40,000 or more," added the comprehensive, 22-page report.

Overall only 29 percent of college graduates said that they “strongly agree” that college prepared them for life. And those 29 percent are far more engaged with their work than the rest.

Former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, who as Purdue's president has tried to refocus the school on students, even to the point of freezing tuition and cutting costs, said, "It turns out that student debt hinders our national economy just as it hinders the individual life prospects of students who borrow too much of it.” He recommended that other schools restrain costs and make higher education more accessible.

Most of the results referenced above are in the executive summary of the attached report on pages 6-7.

Paul Bedard, the Washington Examiner's "Washington Secrets" columnist, can be contacted at