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The Effect of the Business Cycle on Freshman Major Choice

  • Bradley, Elizabeth S.

During economic downturns, college students can alter their postsecondary education decisions through several channels. This paper focuses on college major choice, one higher education decision that might change after a recession, and one that few researchers have explored. Due to data limitations, previous research is unable to provide definitive results on if, or how, matriculating freshmen change college majors during recessions. The data used for this study assuages those limitations and is obtained from the "Freshman Survey," administered by the Cooperative Institutional Research Program (CIRP). Building on what is already known about how students choose college majors and how they respond to information shocks, the theoretical model proposes that during economic downturns, students will switch to fields with higher relative wage and employment opportunities. First, this study finds that freshmen are less likely to have undeclared intended majors after recessions. Then, a multinomial logit empirical technique strongly suggests that after economic downturns, those who declare intended majors are more likely to choose ones that offer higher wages and provide more job security, like Technology, Business, Engineering and Health. University administrators can apply this empirical model to their own institutional-level data. In the presence of substantial budget cuts, administrators can anticipate the majors that will require more resources and those from which they can transfer resources to efficiently meet student demand. More broadly, these conclusions offer better information on labor force composition after recessions, which can enhance forecasting of likely shortages and surpluses in the labor market.

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Paper provided by University Library of Munich, Germany in its series MPRA Paper with number 42412.

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Date of creation: 25 Oct 2012
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Handle: RePEc:pra:mprapa:42412
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  1. Robert Jensen, 2010. "The (Perceived) Returns to Education and the Demand for Schooling," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 125(2), pages 515-548, May.
  2. Eide, Eric & Waehrer, Geetha, 1998. "The Role of the Option Value of College Attendance in College Major Choice," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 17(1), pages 73-82, February.
  3. Montmarquette, Claude & Cannings, Kathy & Mahseredjian, Sophie, 2002. "How do young people choose college majors?," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 21(6), pages 543-556, December.
  4. Goldin, Claudia, 1999. "Egalitarianism and the Returns to Education during the Great Transformation of American Education," Scholarly Articles 2623652, Harvard University Department of Economics.
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  8. Dolores Messer & Stefan Wolter, 2010. "Time-to-degree and the business cycle," Education Economics, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 18(1), pages 111-123.
  9. Hamermesh, Daniel S. & Donald, Stephen G., 2008. "The effect of college curriculum on earnings: An affinity identifier for non-ignorable non-response bias," Journal of Econometrics, Elsevier, vol. 144(2), pages 479-491, June.
  10. Magali BEFFY & Denis FOUGERE & Arnaud MAUREL, 2009. "Choosing the Field of Study in Post-Secondary Education : Do Expected Earnings Matter ?," Working Papers 2009-14, Centre de Recherche en Economie et Statistique.
  11. Kahn, Lisa B., 2010. "The long-term labor market consequences of graduating from college in a bad economy," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 17(2), pages 303-316, April.
  12. Arcidiacono, Peter, 2002. "Ability Sorting and the Returns to College Major," Working Papers 02-26, Duke University, Department of Economics.
  13. Philip Oreopoulos & Till von Wachter & Andrew Heisz, 2012. "The Short- and Long-Term Career Effects of Graduating in a Recession," American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, American Economic Association, vol. 4(1), pages 1-29, January.
  14. Mattila, J Peter, 1982. "Determinants of Male School Enrollments: A Time-Series Analysis," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 64(2), pages 242-51, May.
  15. Todd R. Stinebrickner & Ralph Stinebrickner, 2011. "Math or Science? Using Longitudinal Expectations Data to Examine the Process of Choosing a College Major," NBER Working Papers 16869, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  16. Matthew Wiswall & Basit Zafar, 2011. "Belief updating among college students: evidence from experimental variation in information," Staff Reports 516, Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
  17. Mattila, J. Peter, 1982. "Determinants of Male School Enrollments, A Time-Series Analysis," Staff General Research Papers 10849, Iowa State University, Department of Economics.
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