Early declaration of a college major and its relationship to college student persistence
Completion of a college degree, as reflected by graduation rates, is a priority for campus administrators, politicians, families, and students. When students do not graduate, it has an effect on students, families, institutions, and surrounding communities. Colleges and universities, whether public or private, may find financial support declining when graduation rates do not improve. Debt acquired during college can be costly for students who drop-out before earning a degree. Some students, parents, administrators, faculty, and staff perceive that students making an early decision about a major is necessary for success in college. Many believe that enrolling as undeclared contributes to student attrition from college. Significant numbers of first-time in college students enroll each year without having chosen a major. Previous research examining undeclared students, however, is limited, conflicting, and dated. Still, increasingly, administrators and other stakeholders agree on two things: students should persist to graduation and students should declare a major as early as possible. This was an ideal time, therefore, to examine whether these two things were in fact correlated to one another. The study was conducted through the conceptual frame provided by Astin’s (1993) I-E-O model in order to determine if matriculating in an undeclared versus declared academic program was predictive of college student persistence and degree completion, taking into consideration student demographics, pre-college academic performance, institutional sub-environments, high-impact educational practice participation, and within-college academic performance. For this study, the term undeclared was defined as those students who matriculate to the institution without having a degree-granting major. The logistic regression models conducted for this study resulted in the finding that there are no differences in persistence or on-time graduation for declared and undeclared students. The study concludes that research into factors impacting persistence and completion should focus on factors other than major declaration at matriculation. Because declared and undeclared students are quite alike, especially when one considers college student persistence, colleges and universities should encourage and permit students to explore their options for majors as opposed to making premature, uninformed decisions. Institutional policy and practice should be adjusted to consider all students as in need of major exploration.