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Nearly one-third of higher ed students change majors

University Business, February 2018

Nearly one-third of undergraduates who have declared a major changed that major at least once within three years of initial enrollment, according to a recent National Center for Education Statistics study of 25,000 students.

Nearly 33 percent of students enrolled in bachelor’s degree programs switched, compared with 28 percent in associate degree programs. Ten percent have changed majors more than once.

The report, released this past January, is based on the 2012/14 Beginning Postsecondary Students Longitudinal Study, a multiyear survey of 25,000 first-time undergraduates. The survey did not ask why students moved, nor did it delve into the consequences of multiple changes.

This makes the data challenging for higher ed administrators to assess, says Josipa Roksa, a professor of sociology and education at the University of Virginia.

“If students change majors because they are struggling academically in prerequisite or major classes, it would imply the need for stronger preparation in K12 education as well as more attention to academic readiness in college,” says Roksa.

Students in this position would benefit from additional instruction or tutoring, she says. If students are changing because of new interests or career paths, that same stronger early preparation would be beneficial, she says.