James Madison University
Office of Institutional Research


Research Notes 

Volume 12, Number 2

September, 1997


The cohort of first-time freshmen who entered in the Fall of 1992 has been examined in order to quantify changes in majors, and graduation and retention rates by major. The results include three different views (Tables 1, 2, and 3) of how students progress in their academic careers. It is recognized that a significant number of students change their majors at least once in their undergraduate career. This research note provides a quantitative description of these changes by major. It also gives two views of graduation rates by major. The first is the graduation rate by major for students who declared only one major and did not change it. The second is the annual proportion of all degrees conferred, by major, that were completed in four years (by the cohort examined). The "sum" of these views becomes a starting point for understanding better how student declaration and change of majors interacts with the complexity of academic offerings and policies.

Table 1, "Fall 1992 Majors in Fall 1996: Changes, Graduated, and Continuing," lists majors by college and contains a count of majors declared in Fall 1992 and Fall 1995. It also contains counts of the number of students who did not change majors from Fall 1992 to Fall 1995, the number of majors lost, the number of majors gained, the net gain or loss, the number of majors graduated in 1995-96, and the number of majors continued into Fall 1996.

JMU enrolled 2,042 first-time college students on the Fall 1992 census. Of these 2,042 students, 927 (45%) did not declare a major and the other 1,115 students (55%) declared a total of 1,184 first and second majors. Between Fall 1992 and Fall 1995, the College of Arts and Letters retained the highest percentage of students who did not change majors (53.5 percent or 247 of the 462 total in Table 1, Fall 1992). It is followed by the Colleges of Education and Psychology (50.0 percent), Integrated Science and Technology (47.0 percent), Business (39.3 percent) and Science and Mathematics (37.9 percent).

By Fall 1996, 1,228 students in this cohort (60%) graduated with 1,303 majors declared. An additional 397 (19%) continued to work toward their first degree with 436 majors declared. The College of Arts and Letters had the greatest number of completed majors (N=569 for 44%) and Fall 96 continuing majors (N=155 for 36%).

Table 2, "Four Year Graduation Rate by Major: Students Who Did Not Change Majors," is the best measure of graduation rates by major that may be generated. A graduation rate by major is complicated by the fact that students may change their major and may declare double majors. To control for this, Table 2 includes only members of the Fall 1992 freshman cohort who declared only one major and did not change it.

Nine hundred ninety-four members of the Fall 1992 entering freshman cohort declared only one major and remained in it until 1995-96. This figure includes students who were undeclared in Fall 1992 and declared a single major prior to graduation. They represented 48.7% of the 2,042 beginning cohort total. Seven hundred forty-two of these students graduated in four years or less, resulting in a four year graduation rate of 75% for students who did not change majors. The College of Education and Psychology had the highest rate, graduating 104 out of 129 unchanged majors (81%).

Table 3 contains the "Proportion by Major of Annual Degrees That Were Completed in Four Years or Less: Students Entering JMU as First-Time Freshmen in Fall 1992 or Earlier." This table was generated to help address the concern among parents, faculty, and administrators about how long it takes students to complete a specific major. The table includes graduates who changed majors, but does not include transfer students or students who entered JMU as freshmen after Fall 1992.

By September 1996, a total of 1,303 majors were completed by 1,228 members of the Fall 1992 entering freshman cohort in four years or less. Between December 1995 and August 1996 a total of 1,775 undergraduate majors were completed by students who began their college education as first-time freshmen at JMU (majors completed by transfer students were not included). This means that 73% of the majors completed by students who entered JMU as first-time freshmen were completed in four years or less. The College of Education and Psychology had the highest proportion of four year completion in 1995-96 (77%).

Additional questions about this study can be addressed to the Office of Institutional Research at ask-oir@jmu.edu.

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