Gallup Student Poll finds gap between perception and reality in youth hope, engagement and wellbeing

Gallup and America’s Promise Alliance use findings to inform Grad Nation work

America's Promise Alliance Gallup Student PollA nationally representative poll released August 12 by Gallup and America’s Promise Alliance (the Alliance) shows that one-third (34 percent) of youth ages 10-18 are poised to achieve academically, socially and civically, and half (53 percent) are hopeful, while 63 percent are fully engaged in school, as quantified by Gallup research. This survey is the second public poll to come out of the larger Gallup Student Poll initiative, which has measured the hope, engagement and wellbeing of students in grades 5-12 in hundreds of schools since March 2009 through the administration of surveys in individual schools and school districts nationwide.

The findings from this latest nationally representative poll provide a lens on how our young people are doing nationwide and will complement the more specific school-based Gallup Student Poll that helps school systems and communities determine local solutions to the dropout crisis. According to Editorial Projects in Education Research, only about 70 percent of American students currently graduate high school on time. That number decreases to a little more than half for African American (54 percent) and Hispanic youth (56 percent) and students attending school in the nation’s 50 largest cities (53 percent average graduation rate). These actual graduation rates are significantly lower than the 92 percent of students in the Gallup poll who said they will graduate from high school. 

“These poll results present a stark reality, demonstrating that there is a real gap in the hope our young people have for their future, especially in those earlier years, and the reality that confronts them as they get older,” said Marguerite Kondracke, president and CEO, America’s Promise Alliance. “Nowhere is this gap more apparent than in graduation rates where the Gallup poll findings indicate a 22 percentage point gap between the number of students who believe they will graduate and those that actually do. This is precisely the reason that the Gallup Student Poll is such an important tool in our Grad Nation initiative. The findings provide valuable insight directly from students to schools, families and communities, so programs and support structures can better serve our young people.”

From June 11-July 6, 2010, Gallup surveyed youth ages 10-18 in households from the nationally representative Gallup Panel. In conducting this survey, Gallup posed 20 questions seeking to measure three key indicators– hope, engagement and wellbeing – that research has shown are factors that may drive students’ grades, achievement scores, retention and future employment.

  • Hope – the ideas and energy students have for the future which may drive effort, academic achievement credits earned, and retention for all ages;
  • Engagement – the level of involvement in and enthusiasm for school can reflect how well students are known and how often they get to do what they do best and;
  • Wellbeing – how students think about and experience their lives can demonstrate how students are doing today and helps predict their success in the future.

Additional key findings from the poll:

  • More than half of youth ages 10–18 surveyed (53 percent) are hopeful; while one-third (31 percent) are stuck and 16 percent are discouraged. Students who are stuck or discouraged tend to lack the ideas and energy they need to navigate problems and reach goals.
  • Nearly two-thirds of American youth surveyed (63 percent) are engaged, with nearly three quarters of fifth graders in the sample reporting they received recognition for good school work in the past seven days. Conversely, only 31 percent of ninth graders surveyed received recognition in the past seven days, representing a decline during the critical middle school years while 14 percent of students in the poll reported being completely disengaged.
  • Nearly all of the students surveyed (92 percent) say they will graduate. However, half of those same students think they will find a good job after they finish school and 35 percent said they can find lots of ways around a problem.
  • More than 70 percent of students report to be thriving, which means they tend to think about their present and future in positive terms, have family or friends they can count on and tend to be in good health.

The 34 percent of students in the sample who surveyed high on all three indicators (hope, engagement and wellbeing) are not only better poised for future success but more likely to achieve the following over their peers in the survey:

  • Obtain GPAs that are one-letter grade higher;
  • Complete as much as 20 percent more credits;
  • Report fewer health concerns and feel more rested.

NOTE: Findings are from a survey submitted to 2,555 American youth ages 10-18 in households of Gallup Panel members. Of that group, 642 usable surveys were returned (25 percent completion rate). The survey was conducted by both mail and web and the Panel is weighted so that it is demographically representative of the U.S. youth population. The maximum margin of sampling error is +/- 4.95 percentage points.

“If Hope occurs before drop out, why wouldn’t we work on that”, said Jim Clifton, Chairman and CEO of Gallup. By bringing these metrics to the local level, the Gallup Student Poll is creating a vehicle for communities to create tailored solutions to effectively address the dropout rate.

The Gallup Student Poll is an essential component of the Alliance’s Grad Nation initiative. Launched in March with the support of President Obama and Secretary Duncan, Grad Nation is a new 10-year initiative to mobilize all Americans to take action in their communities to end the high school dropout crisis and ultimately prepare young people for postsecondary education and the 21st century workforce.  By fielding national panel samples and engaging school districts directly with the Gallup Student Poll, the Alliance and Gallup are able to support communities with data to inform their action strategies and work around dropout prevention.

Since March 2009, the Gallup Student Poll has captured the voices and feelings of more than 445,000 young people in over 90 school districts in 39 states and the District of Columbia. In October 2009, the poll surveyed 246,682 students in grades 5-12 at 907 schools in 93 school districts in 38 states and the District of Columbia. The results of that poll were similar to the national survey panel with only 28 percent of students reporting high levels of all three indicators and being truly poised for success. Additionally, half surveyed were hopeful (50 percent), 53 percent were engaged and 63 percent were thriving with 84 percent saying they would graduate high school.

For a copy of the full report and results from the Gallup Student Poll national survey or previous polls, its methodology or to sign up and participate for free, visit .