DEBT AND DECISION-MAKING: THE IMPACT OF STUDENT LOAN DEBT ON UNDERGRADUATES' CHOICE OF MAJOR, VOCATION, AND POST-COLLEGE PLANS
Much research has been conducted on the effect of undergraduates' socioeconomic status on their experience in college, including their choice of major and vocation (Duffy & Sedlacek, 2007; Goyette & Mullen, 2006; Trusty, Robinson, Plata, & Ng, 2000). However, there is little research that indicates how undergraduates' degree of indebtedness affects their choice of major and career path. Furthermore, there is conflicting research about how undergraduate indebtedness impacts post-college plans (Millett, 2003; Nettles, 1989; Schapiro, O'Malley, & Litten, 1991; Weiler, 1994). To address these topics, this study analyzed the responses of 687 traditional-age undergraduates at three institutions to the Survey on Student Finance and the College Experience. The researcher found that there was a significant positive association between participants' anticipated debt level and major choice as well as career choice. Furthermore, there was a significant positive association between anticipated debt level and major choice among participants who anticipated that their parents would pay back most or all of their student loans. Additionally, the participants who least often indicated plans to go to graduate school immediately were medium-debt and high-debt participants. Similarly, the participants who most often indicated plans to get a job immediately were medium-debt and high-debt participants. Also, there was significant positive association between participants' debt level and the extent to which they indicated that their post-college plans were influenced by their debt. Finally, participants turned to certain resources to discuss their student loan debt more often than others, such as their parent(s), the financial aid office, and their academic advisor. The participants who utilized these resources found their parent(s) to be the most helpful in affording them a better understanding of their debt. As college costs and undergraduates' debt loads continue to rise, the findings of this study can inform the policies and practices of institutions of higher education, specifically in meeting the needs of their indebted students.