THE INITIAL ACADEMIC MAJOR DECISION-MAKING PROCESS: AN APPLICATION OF AZJEN'S THEORY OF PLANNED BEHAVIOR
Park, Julie J
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Students' initial academic major choice can expose them to socializing factors and resources that can facilitate or impede success in their first year of college. When discussing progress, retention, persistence, attainment, and completion, policy makers, administrators, and scholars very rarely discuss how students settle on a chosen major in the first place. An understanding of the levers that influence initial academic major choice allows for interventions that may lead to choices which fit students' academic interests, expectations, goals, and abilities. This study employs binary logistic regression (LR) to examine initial academic major choice as a dichotomous outcome - declared or undecided. The conceptual model for this study is an interpretation of Azjen's (1991) Theory of Planned Behavior (TPB) where the decision-making process under study includes students' predisposition towards, deference to others about, volition over, and intentions related to the fundamental decision whether to start college with a declared major or none at all. The incorporation of behavioral, normative, and control beliefs into these constructs allows for an examination of determinants of behavior that underlie students' perceptions related to their initial academic major choice. In examining factors that induce one student to make one decision and another student to make another decision, the findings of this study indicate the specific levers found to be significant in the initial academic major decision-making process are: 1) positive attitudes about starting college with a declared major; 2) family members who believe in starting college with a declared major and the importance of those family members to the student; and 3) how difficult it was for the student to make the decision. Additional sub-sample analyses and tests for equality of B coefficients reveal that the sources and influence of some factors are different for different groups of students based on sex and race/ethnicity. Implications for practice and research include institutions of higher education honing the content and audiences of messaging related to initial academic major choice; strengthened partnerships between K-12 and institutions of higher education; and the use of more sophisticated statistical techniques, as well as sub-group data analyses.