About the Undeclared Major as a Dead Horse

…I have not finished beating it.

Quick recap: FSA is requiring all Title IV awardees submitted by institutions to have a valid CIP Code (Classification of Instructional Programs), including students in undeclared or undecided status. Virginia institutions have been running into difficulty because they have reporting undeclared students to us for over 20 years using code 90.0000, which is, alas, a Virginia-specific code. It is thus not found in the official CIP 2010 tables and students submitted with these codes have been rejected. USED is advising institutions to use 24.0102 – General Studies.

Apart from my argument that students who are not, by definition, enrolled in a program and should not have a valid CIP code – unless it’s definition is undeclared. This is not the case of 24.0102. However,while  I grant the Illustrative Examples of “Undeclared” and “Undecided” might seem to make it a logical choice, I think a step was missed.

What step? How about checking to see if degrees are awarded under 24.0102? After all, a BA awarded in General Studies would seem to be a pretty declarative statement, wouldn’t it? Wouldn’t it also seem that someone had decided that was an appropriate major?

In 2012, there were 84,118 degrees at various levels awarded nationwide based on the IPEDS Completions report.


In 1992, there were 24,357 degrees at various levels awarded with CIP 24.0102.

Oops. It is a growing problem.

In the grand scope of things, this is a relatively minor problem. Unfortunately it demonstrates how little thought is given to future data collections and future uses of data. Any analysis of these data will be inconclusive, misleading, or wrong, because researchers won’t be able to separate out students who were actually enrolled in a General Studies program v. those who were undeclared.

It would be so very easy to add 00.0000 or 99.9999 or some other code to the valid value table that is based on CIP Codes to avoid this problem. If the logic is that all degree-seeking (and thus potentially aid-eligible) students are enrolled in a program, this is just wrong. Some schools, including one of my previous employers, did not, possibly still does not, allow students to select a major until after the third semester. This allows them to experience more of the liberal arts and sciences before settling down to focus on just one.

I am curious to know if this was a conscious, intentional decision by the department, or a development choice by the contractor that was subsequently (and thoughtlessly) approved by the person running the contract.


3 thoughts on “About the Undeclared Major as a Dead Horse

  1. Pingback: It is a niche series of arguments and posts | random data from a tumored head

  2. Pingback: Some of the inherent biases in conversations about data | random data from a tumored head

  3. Pingback: Reinventing College | random data from a tumored head

Be nice. It won't hurt either of us.

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