Jacob: Effects of labor market information on community college students' choice of major

May 1, 2017

Rachel Baker (University of California, Irvine), Eric Bettinger (Stanford University), Brian Jacob, and Ioana Marinescu (University of Chicago) co-authored a working paper, "The Effect of Labor Market Information on Community College Students' Major Choice" that was published by the Education Policy Initiative in April 2017.


An important goal of community colleges is to prepare students for the labor market. But are students aware of the labor market outcomes in different majors? And how much do students weigh labor market outcomes when choosing a major? In this study we find that less than 40% of a sample of community college students in California rank broad categories of majors accurately in terms of labor market outcomes. However, students believe that salaries are 13 percent higher than they actually are, on average, and students underestimate the probability of being employed by almost 25 percent. We find that the main determinants of major choice are beliefs about course enjoyment and grades, but expected labor market outcomes also matter. Experimental estimates of the impact of expected labor market outcomes are larger than OLS estimates and show that a 1% increase in salary is associated with a 1.4 to 1.8% increase in the probability of choosing a specific category of majors.