Date of Award


Document Type

Campus Access Dissertation


Educational Studies


Educational Psychology / Research

First Advisor

Christine DiStefano


Higher education in the United States is replete with inventories and instruments designed to help administrators to identify students who are more likely to succeed in college and to tailor the higher education experience to foster this success. One area of research involves the Holland vocational personality type (Holland 1973, 1985, 1997) inventory, used to classify people into three-level personality types according to their work interests, behaviors, habits and preferences. This inventory has received a great deal of attention as a potential tool for steering college students into their optimal majors and thereby streamlining their college careers. Smart, Feldman and Ethington (2000) examined the Holland types as assessed through items present on the Cooperative Institutional Research Program (CIRP) Freshman Survey. Using both student and faculty data from a national sample, they argued that the Holland type can be generalized to students pursuing higher education through the academic department; departments are where students "work." This Holland/CIRP Freshman Survey inventory and the "factor structure" developed by Smart and associates was presented in the original work (2000) and a subsequent work sponsored by the National Symposium for Postsecondary Student Success (2006) but the evidence of the validity of their factors and analysis was never complete; no psychometric evaluation was done and their argument rests weakly on others' assessment of the constructs (Pike, 1996).

This study sought to provide validity evidence of the Smart, Feldman and Ethington (2000) estimation of the Holland vocational personality type provided to colleges and universities through the CIRP Freshman Survey. First, the model proposed by Smart and associates (2000) was examined through exploratory factor analysis to determine if the proposed factor structure could be reproduced with an independent single-institution sample of the same size used in the original research. Results showed that the factors identified by Smart et al (2000) could not be replicated, with the possible exception of the dimension of Artistic orientation. Next, items on the CIRP Freshman Survey were then used to attempt to make an independent alternative factor structure. Using a randomly split development sample, a factor structure was developed and validated with the remainder of the sample. Factor scores from the final structure were then used to classify students using cluster analysis, and the clusters were compared to their academic majors in an attempt to provide an alternative Holland model. The clusters did not capture trends in choosing either a freshman or a graduating major, and so does not provide a means of alternative estimation for the Holland vocational personality type.

Multiple arguments against the validity of the original Smart, Feldman and Ethington (2000) estimation of the Holland vocational personality type via the CIRP Freshman Survey with the exception of the Artistic orientation dimension are presented. More troubling are the questions raised by the lack of validity evidence, given that the authors suggest that these subscales can be used to optimize fit between students and academic departments--and that the information is used nationally at "face value." The information calls into question the use of such scales, even those which are nationally published and widely used, if validity evidence is not present. Discussion focuses on the institution's responsibility in establishing the usability of such forms to make advisement or other intervention decisions for individual students.


© 2012, Nancy D. Floyd