Frequently Asked Questions

 Why do this project? Who benefits?
Who is sponsoring this project?
What is the survey about?
What is the design of the survey?
Who are the survey respondents?
How is informed consent secured?
How is confidentiality maintained?
Has IRB approval been 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 new project should 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 which might benefit from their sociological knowledge.

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Who is sponsoring this project?

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

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What is the survey about?

The first wave of the study is geared to senior sociology majors. Many of the survey questions are the same as the ASA-conducted 2005 survey. In addition, a series of questions about job search have been 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 will compare 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 is the design of the survey?

The survey will be on-line. The on-line survey will be 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 will be 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 are the survey respondents?

The sample design for the project is a replication of that used for the prior longitudinal study of a sample of majors from the 2005 graduating cohort. The same departments are being 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 are currently being asked to participate in the new study and are being asked to provide a list of their majors who are expected to graduate in May or August, 2012. The only information needed is name and email address.

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How is informed consent secured?

The Center for Survey Research at Indiana University is responsible for the student survey administration and data collection. Respondents will be invited to participate in the online survey and will receive four reminders to encourage their participation. The survey begins with a consent form to sign as part of the on-line format with directions indicating that respondents can decide not to participate or to stop at any point in the survey.

The survey provides no risks for individual respondents because questions are, for the most part, limited to their assessment of the programs that they majored in, what they expect to do in the near future and the networks they used to search for and attain jobs. The survey is entirely voluntary and no individual respondent should feel any pressure to complete it.

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How is confidentiality maintained?

No individual-level data will be shared with departments or the schools from which respondents graduate. Rather, department-level, aggregated findings for each of the study variables will be sent to participating department chairs so that they may compare their department’s results with those of the entire sample. If a department has fewer than 5 senior majors, no aggregate data will be provided. The ASA Research Department will provide aggregated “peer group” comparisons of chair’s choosing for a minimal cost.

To protect student responses, the CSR computing environment requires a high level of computer and data security. Indiana University provides an initial level of security, and the CSR computing staff use industry standard best practices as security procedures. Each workstation is updated daily with virus protection software. The CSR network is scanned daily for needed security packs and patches. The security server deploys all needed Microsoft security patches each night. Once each week, all workstations receive a complete scan for possible security problems. The computing staff has designed a number of processes for preventing intrusions or data loss on the various servers. User IDs and passwords tightly control access to the servers. Firewalls are used to detect and prevent unauthorized intrusions. The files on the servers are backed up each night, and complete system backups are done weekly. The server room is on a separate lock from other doors in the building, and there is a motion alarm in the room. The CSR uses 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 is transmitted to ASA, it will be transferred to a freestanding computer (not attached to the internet) in a locked room for the purposes of data analysis. Access to this data will be limited to the PI, on-site Co-PI, and the Research Associates analyzing the data via SPSS software. Although ASA also provides a high level of data and computer security, with many of the same best practices as used by CSR, a stand-alone computer in a locked office will provide even more security from hackers or potential thieves. The SPSS data file will be transferred to a computer disk at the end of each workday, which will be stored in a locked drawer to which the PI and the Research Associate have the key.

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Has IRB approval been secured?

The American Sociological Association has 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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