How Community College Students Choose Programs of Study

 January 2023 - December 2025

Choosing a program of study is one of the most important decisions a college student makes, with long-term consequences for employment and earnings. But understanding programs and choosing one is particularly fraught for community college students. Because these schools are complex, understaffed, and offer such varied programs of study, students often find it difficult to navigate college structures and identify career paths aligned with their goals. Further, many students lack accurate information about the earnings associated with different fields of study. This three-year research project uses surveys and interviews with students, faculty, and staff, as well as administrative data, to explore students’ decision-making about programs of study and what perceptions students have about their programs over the course of their college careers. A three-wave survey of first-time-in-college students will gather information about students’ awareness of programs, perceptions of programs, and out-of-college support and experiences, among other topics, and how these perceptions change over time. The findings of this study can be used to help colleges create better systems and processes to ensure that all students have opportunities to reflect on their personal goals and interests, make connections to faculty and peers who have similar goals and interests, explore fields they might not have initially considered, and develop personalized plans that they can use to get on and stay on a rewarding academic and career path.

Funding for this project is provided by Ascendium Education Group.

Project Lead

Hana Lahr