Panel Paper: Choosing a Career: Lessons Learned from TAACCCT

Saturday, November 4, 2017
Haymarket (Hyatt Regency Chicago)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Alex I Ruder, University of South Carolina and Heather McKay, Rutgers University

Career Pathways were promoted by the USDOL as an important strategy for community colleges under the TAACCCT grant program. However, little is actually known about whether and how career pathways information influences the educational and career decisions students make. This paper provides the results of an information experiment conducted with students in five community colleges and one university in Colorado under the Round 3 TAACCCT grant- the Colorado Helps Manufacturing Program (CHAMP).


Little is known about how students make decisions and even less is known about the role career pathways information plays in these decisions. One key questions is how decision-making on career pathway differs from typical educational decision-making on the immediate or short-term outcomes of a single training choice. Career pathways are not a single decision whose costs and benefits accrue over time. Career pathways present the trainee with a complex series of future choices, each with different costs and benefits, and a different probability of success. This experiment investigates how much college students weigh attributes—such as the employment probability at different stages in the career pathway—when making their educational choices. The goal, is to understand how the career pathway framework changes the process of student decision making.  


For this study a pre/post survey was fielded to 200 students in the CHAMP grant. It builds on research designs used in educational economics research on wage expectations, labor market information, and educational choice (Willis and Rosen, 1979; Berger, 1988; Arcidiacono et. al, 2012; Wiswall and Zafar, 2015).


The survey started with questions on self-perception and education, employment and earnings goals. Students were then asked to review career pathways information for the pathway of their choice. This document included information on wages, average number of years from the start to finish of the pathway, job openings in Colorado, average wage, and preferred education for each position. After reviewing this document, students were given the same series of questions asked earlier. The career pathways information shown to the students was pulled from a website developed under the CHAMP grant and as such, resembles an actual information tool that they may encounter at the college.

The pre/post survey design allows us to measure how the career pathways information influences individual student perceptions of future education, earnings, and employment outcomes. One aspect of our analysis focuses on how different groups of students react to this information. Scholars have found gender differences in career choice, some of this difference is aligned with attributes that vary by gender, such as risk preferences and overconfidence (Wiswall and Zafar 2015, 2016).  Since career pathways involve uncertainty--multiple stages of future career choices, each with its own probability of success and accompanying payoff—the results of this information on subjective expectations may vary along with the students’ own risk preferences. More broadly, our analysis reveals how policymakers can use career pathways to help students make more informed educational and career decisions.