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What Can You Do With a Sociology BA?

Departments are invited to participate in an ASA survey

by Roberta Spalter-Roth, Research and Development Department

Sociology students, their parents, and the public have long asked, “What can you do with a bachelor’s degree in sociology?” and in response, over the last 25 years, the American Sociological Association (ASA) has developed publications for undergraduate majors that give advice on assessing skills, doing a job search, and potential career paths. Despite efforts to provide early career information, ASA has never had national information about what sociology majors actually do after graduation.

To provide this information, ASA’s Research and Development Department is directing a three-wave longitudinal survey. It will ask questions of majors at three points in time: (1) in their senior year of college, (2) one year after graduation, and (3) two years after graduation. The Sociology Program of the National Science Foundation (NSF) has provided support for this study. The first wave of the survey will be fielded in spring 2005, and initial results will be available in August 2005.

“This national survey will tell us not only what jobs new graduates could pursue, but which ones they are already pursuing,” said ASA Executive Officer Sally T. Hillsman in describing the importance of the new survey. “It will tell us not only what skills are valuable for the job market or for post-secondary education, but also what skills and concepts students report learning, how they participated in the sociological community, and how these skills and experiences affected their early career paths, including the pursuit of postsecondary education.”

The ASA sub-contracted with the Indiana University Center for Survey Research (CSR) to work with ASA to conduct the survey and provide the ASA with the results for analysis. A committee of current and former chairs of sociology departments volunteered to advise ASA on all phases of the project. Advisory Committee members include Sharon Barnartt, Gallaudet College; Issac Eberstein, Florida State University; Louis Hicks, St. Mary’s College, Maryland; Gregory Hooks, Washington State University; John Kennedy, Indiana University; Mary S. Senter, Central Michigan University; Ronnie Steinberg, Vanderbilt University; Pamela Stone, CUNY-Hunter College; and Jan Thomas, Kenyon College.

The Senior Survey

The senior-year survey asks seniors why they chose sociology as a major, what skills and concepts they learned, what activities they participated in, and what they intend to do after graduation. The survey items were selected and ranked by sociology department chairs who attended a workshop at the 2004 annual ASA meeting. The advisory committee refined the survey. Committee members who teach research methods classes pre-tested it with their students in order to refine items’ usefulness, identify potential privacy issues that could affect responses, improve question construction, and add additional items.

Sample Selection

The ASA Research and Development Department will randomly select 20 PhD-granting departments, 20 master’s degree-granting departments, and 40 bachelor’s degree-granting departments from among all departments granting a bachelor’s degree in sociology. This sample will represent the share of graduating seniors from each type of institution of higher education. We will ask chairs of these departments if they are interested in participating in the study and if they will be able to provide us with a list of senior majors and their e-mail contacts within a few weeks (in some cases they will require approval from their own campus IRBs). If a chair of a randomly selected department declines to participate, we will substitute another school of the same type from a list of volunteer departments.

Data Collection

Senior sociology majors in the selected departments will be invited to participate. They will be provided with a consent form to sign as part of the online survey, if they decide to participate. The aggregated results of this survey will be issued to sociology department chairs and majors in a variety of formats, including customized tables. These data will be useful in efforts to improve department curriculum, activities, services, and public views of the discipline.

Help Needed

As of December 2004 we began building a pool of volunteer departments interested in participating in the study. These departments will serve as substitutes, in the event that any of the randomly selected departments are unable or decline to participate. Not all substitute departments will need to participate. Volunteers will need to provide a list of students majoring in sociology and indicate whether they need or can obtain IRB approval for this project. Survey materials (including the questionnaire, the survey protocol, a list of advisory committee members, and a list of departments that have volunteered) can be found on the research website at www2.asanet.org/research/bahome.html.

If you are interested in participating, please let us know so that we can send you further information about the survey. Contact Roberta Spalter-Roth at spalter-roth@asanet.org or William Erskine at erskine@asanet.org.