Indiana University SPEA Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy University of Pennsylvania AIR American University

Poster Paper: Major Switching: A Discussion of Major Declaration Patterns and Academic Outcomes

Friday, November 13, 2015
Riverfront South/Central (Hyatt Regency Miami)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Elizabeth Kopko, Columbia University
The implications of early major choice on student outcomes are not immediately clear.  On the one hand, we might expect decided students to be more likely to stay on a prescribed track towards graduation.  On the other hand, students who are pushed into premature major decisions may be more likely to select into a field of study that does not reflect their interests or match their abilities.  These early deciding students may find themselves in a discouraging and frustrating position that in the best case scenario leads the student to switch into an alternate major, or in other instances, leads the student to drop out altogether (Acridiacno, 2004). The impacts of major switching on student success are equally as ambiguous as those of early major choice.  Research suggests that students who switch majors sort themselves into more homogenous sets pursuing the same field suggesting that early college experiences afford the student knowledge upon which to make more informed major selections later on (Kojaku, 1971).  Alternatively, major switching might increase time-to-graduation and college costs, discouraging completion.  The later hypothesis is of particular importance in the study of community college success where efficient pathways towards completion have been found to be a significant contributor to student success (Scott-Clayton, 2011).

Using data from five cohorts of first-time-in-college students who entered a single state’s community college system, this study will explore major declaration patterns among a group of students who are mandated to make major decisions at the time of first enrollment.  Further, this research aims to uncover the relationship between characteristics of these patterns, specifically related to major switching, and educational outcomes.  In order to accomplish this goal, first, I quantifyably summarize and utilize graphical techniques to illustrate patterns of major declaration generated by community college students along their educational pathways.  Second, multivariate statistics are used to examine the relationship between salient characteristics of these patterns and a series of student outcomes including total credits earned, number of terms enrolled, cumulative GPA, and associate degree completion (controlling for a range of covariates and college and cohort fixed effects). Regressions will be analyzed for the entire sample as well as for various subgroups including community college completers, non-completers, and transfer students.