American Sociological Association

Bachelor's and Beyond FAQ

Frequently Asked Questions

Why do this project? Who benefits?
Who sponsored this project?
What was the survey about?
What was the design of the survey?
Who were the survey respondents?
How was informed consent secured?
How was confidentiality maintained?
Was IRB approval secured?


Why do this project? Who benefits?

Many sociology departments are concerned about losing out in the competition for undergraduate majors, even though the American Sociological Association’s (ASA) longitudinal survey of the class of 2005 shows that students are excited by the sociological concepts that they learn in introductory courses. A lack of understanding about how sociology majors search for and secure jobs, and the kind of social capital that helps them in this process, can result in sociology departments losing majors to more vocationally-oriented programs. Such loss is problematic at many institutions of higher education. Although the 2005 project found that more than two-thirds of sociology majors are pleased with their ability to see faculty members outside of the classroom and with the quality of teaching, fewer than 20 percent are satisfied with the career or graduate school counseling that they receive from departmental faculty. Read more about the 2005 study

Given that today’s college students are entering a job market with the highest unemployment in a generation, and are saddled with increasing debt, it is reasonable that students and their parents will be concerned about job prospects. The results of this project were meant to provide practical guidance for sociology departments in order to assess aspects of their programs and to launch their students into jobs that reflect their sociological training. The ultimate beneficiaries of this proposed longitudinal study might be the approximately 17,000 sociology majors that graduate each year and go directly into the labor market and the society that might benefit from their sociological knowledge.

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Who sponsored this project?

The ASA Department of Research conducted this longitudinal study of senior sociology majors, under the direction of Principal Investigator Dr. Roberta Spalter-Roth. A grant for this survey was approved by the Sociology Program of the National Science Foundation. View more information on the project.

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What was the survey about?

The first wave of the study was geared toward senior sociology majors. Many of the survey questions were the same as the ASA-conducted 2005 survey. In addition, a series of questions about job search was added, with a focus on the ways in which social ties (for example to family members or faculty) can assist with the process. This study compared the use of such ties among students with diverse demographic characteristics who are pursuing undergraduate degrees in sociology departments in diverse institutional settings.

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What was the design of the survey?

The survey was conducted online. The online survey was designed and administered by the Indiana University Center for Survey Research (CSR), which played a similar role in the 2005 survey. As in the previous survey, whenever possible, questions were adapted from national surveys to ensure their validity and comparability. For example, the newly added questions about social ties used in job search are adapted from the NSF-supported General Social Survey. (View the questionnaire. PDF icon)

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Who were the survey respondents?

The sample design for the project was a replication of that used for the prior longitudinal study of a sample of majors from the 2005 graduating cohort. The same departments were asked to participate.

In 2004, the ASA Research Department drew a stratified quota sample of departments that, according to the National Center for Educational Statistics’ 2003 Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), graduated at least one baccalaureate in sociology. A total of 90 departments were included in the sample. Bachelor’s only departments were oversampled because, on average, they have the fewest students, and are the least likely to respond to ASA surveys.

Departments (rather than individuals) were sampled to obtain lists of senior majors since no existing list of the universe of senior sociology majors exists. As in the previous survey, chairs of these departments were asked to participate in the 2012 study and were asked to provide a list of their majors who are expected to graduate in May or August, 2012. The only information needed was name and e-mail address.

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How was informed consent secured?

The Center for Survey Research at Indiana University was responsible for the student survey administration and data collection. Respondents were invited to participate in the online survey and received four reminders to encourage their participation. The survey began with a consent form to sign as part of the online format with directions indicating that respondents could decide not to participate or to stop at any point in the survey.

The survey provided no risks for individual respondents because questions were, for the most part, limited to their assessment of the programs that they majored in, what they expected to do in the near future, and the networks they used to search for and attain jobs. The survey was entirely voluntary and no individual respondent should have felt any pressure to complete it.

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How was confidentiality maintained?

No individual-level data was shared with departments or the schools from which respondents graduate. Rather, department-level, aggregated findings for each of the study variables were sent to participating department chairs so that they might compare their department’s results with those of the entire sample. If a department had fewer than five senior majors, no aggregate data was provided.

To protect student responses, the CSR computing environment required a high level of computer and data security. Indiana University provided an initial level of security, and the CSR computing staff used industry standard best practices as security procedures. Each workstation was updated daily with virus protection software. The CSR network was scanned daily for needed security packs and patches. The security server deployed all needed Microsoft security patches each night. Once each week, all workstations received a complete scan for possible security problems. The computing staff designed a number of processes for preventing intrusions or data loss on the various servers. User IDs and passwords tightly controlled access to the servers. Firewalls were used to detect and prevent unauthorized intrusions. The files on the servers were backed up each night, and complete system backups were done weekly. The server room was on a separate lock from other doors in the building, and there was a motion alarm in the room. The CSR used 128 bit public key encryption and digital certificates to ensure the security of survey and other sensitive data that are transmitted across the Internet. Once the confidential information provided by respondents was transmitted to ASA, access to these data was limited to the PI, on-site Co-PI, and the Research Associates analyzing the data via SPSS software.

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Was IRB approval secured?

The American Sociological Association received IRB approval from the Western Institution Review Board. Board action was taken on February 4, 2011, Study Number 1122988, WO Number 1-650500-1. (View the Certificate of Approval PDF icon)

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