Data on College-Age Entrepreneurial Interests

Scott Shane highlighted in his blog yesterday some interesting data from the Cooperative Institutional Research Program (CIRP) at the University of California, Los Angeles, related to the interests of college freshmen in business. The CIRP Freshman Survey is part of a larger effort at CIRP to measure the college experience and something which caught my interest about a year ago, so I wanted to share more detail on the survey and some additional tabulation from it which will help researchers to see why there is some great potential here. In particular, this data set would seem ripe for some doctoral research, as CIRP is open to research proposals, and to my knowledge, very little has been done with this data looking at career choice.

From the CIRP website...

The Cooperative Institutional Research Program (CIRP) Freshman Survey is administered by the Higher Education Research Institute (HERI) at UCLA. Informing colleges and universities since 1966, the CIRP Freshman Survey has collected data on over 13 million students at over 1,900 institutions, and is the largest American study of higher education. The CIRP Freshman Survey is designed to provide comprehensive information on your incoming first-year students. It can be used by itself, or, when used in conjunction with the Your First College Year Survey (YFCY) and the College Senior Survey (CSS), provides valuable baseline data for a longitudinal assessment. The CIRP Freshman Survey is used by researchers and practitioners to examine readiness for college, how students choose colleges, student values and beliefs about diversity and civic engagement, and student expectations.

Participating institutions receive a detailed profile of their entering freshman class, as well as national normative data for students in similar types of institutions. These campus profile reports, together with the national normative profile, provide important data that can be useful in a variety of program and policy areas:

Admissions and recruitment
Academic program development, review and self-assessment
Institutional self-study and accreditation activities
Public relations and advancement/development
Institutional research and assessment
Retention studies
Longitudinal research about the impact of policies and programs

Although the normative data provided with the institutional reports (and published annually in The American Freshman) are based on the population of first-time, full-time freshmen, participating institutions also receive separate reports for their part-time and transfer students. Additionally, participating campuses can obtain supplemental reports profiling students by various subgroups (for example, by intended major or career, by academic ability, by home state).

Now Scott's post highlighted the response to a question which reads as follows in the 2009 questionnaire, although the response categories have likely changed over the years.

Please indicate the importance to you personally of each of the following: (Mark one for each item)
Response categories - Essential, Very Important, Somewhat Important, Not Important

Becoming accomplished in one of the performing arts (acting, dancing, etc.)..........................
Becoming an authority in my field.........................................
Obtaining recognition from my colleagues for contributions to my special field..........................................
Influencing the political structure...........................................
Influencing social values.......................................................
Raising a family.....................................................................
Being very well off financially................................................
Helping others who are in difficulty.......................................
Making a theoretical contribution to science.........................
Writing original works (poems, novels, short stories, etc.)....
Creating artistic works (painting, sculpture, decorating, etc.)..
Becoming successful in a business of my own..................... [bold added]
Becoming involved in programs to clean up the environment..
Developing a meaningful philosophy of life...........................
Participating in a community action program........................
Helping to promote racial understanding..............................
Keeping up to date with political affairs.................................
Becoming a community leader..............................................
Improving my understanding of other countries and cultures..
Adopting “green” practices to protect the environment.........

What struck me most when I read Scott's summary of the data was the high level of response to the question. According to Scott's tabulations, the measure has run between 40 and 50 percent of college freshmen choosing either "essential" or "very important" to the choice "Becoming successful in a business of my own" since at least 1976, with the exception of a period of time in the 1990s. 

In correspondence with John Pryor, one of the directors on these projects at UCLA, I had looked at another measure which the Freshmen Survey appears to have related to entrepreneurship, specifically, their probable career choice. Here is the question from the 2009 survey:

Mark only three responses, one in each column [column headings - Your mother's occupation, Your father's occupation, Your probable occupation]

Accountant or actuary.....................
Actor or entertainer.........................
Architect or urban planner...............
Artist................................................
Business (clerical)...........................
Business executive (management, administrator)........
Business owner or proprietor..........[bold added]
Business salesperson or buyer.......
Clergy (minister, priest)...................
Clergy (other religious)....................
Clinical psychologist........................
College administrator/staff...............
College teacher...............................
Computer programmer or analyst...
Conservationist or forester..............
Dentist (including orthodontist)........
Dietitian or nutritionist......................
Engineer..........................................
Farmer or rancher...........................
Foreign service worker (including diplomat).......................
Homemaker (full-time).....................
Interior decorator (including designer)..
Lab technician or hygienist..............
Law enforcement officer..................
Lawyer (attorney) or judge..............
Military service (career)...................
Musician (performer, composer)......
Nurse...............................................
Optometrist......................................
Pharmacist......................................
Physician.........................................
Policymaker/Government................
School counselor.............................
School principal or superintendent..
Scientific researcher........................
Social, welfare, or recreation worker..
Therapist (physical, occupational, speech)........................................
Teacher or administrator (elementary).................................
Teacher or administrator (secondary)..................................
Veterinarian.....................................
Writer or journalist...........................
Skilled trades...................................
Laborer (unskilled)...........................
Semi-skilled worker.........................
Unemployed....................................
Other................................................
Undecided.......................................

John and I had corresponded about his survey because he presented a paper at the 2008 Kauffman Symposium on Entrepreneurship and Innovation Data in which he highlighted the need from his perspective to update the occupation choices represented on the survey for a modern world. Indeed, in his paper he highlighted the following, "approximately 17 percent of incoming students cannot find a suitable occupation on the list and  answer with 'other' (another 14 percent respond with 'undecided'). In 2008, approximately one out of five seniors answered 'other' for the probable career after graduation on the CSS."

In corresponding with John, he was nice enough to send me the time series for the answers to "Your probable occupation" that related to business ownership, which with his permission, I have included below.  

http://www1.kauffman.org/Blogs/DataMaven/August-2009/Data-on-College-Age-Entrepreneurial-Interests/CIRP.aspx

With this response garnering between 1.6 and 3.7 percent over the course of the survey, it is at an extremely different level than the question Scott highlighted. Obviously, both are relevant, but more work needs to be done to understand and interact the responses on individual records. Indeed, if you are a researcher doing work with this data, please let me know. What I would hypothesize is the question Scott highlighted has more to do with interest at some point - a question polling firms have asked in the adult population at different times - while the question which I highlight is probably more akin to the nascent entrepreneurs or people who plan to start a business in the next few years. Now, this is only conjecture and there are other places in this survey where the idea of entrepreneurship would seem to appear, but the conclusions which we draw from the data can differ and should be investigated more. Indeed, the question which I highlight remains closer to historic highs than the question which Scott highlighted, but it should be noted that neither question is at a peak currently. 

It will be interesting to see what the coming years of data show in these trends and what work can be done to improve measurement of entrepreneurship and innovation in the CIRP surveys. John Pryor also asked that I share this on the post: "HERI is interested in exploring the development of entrepreneurship (among other areas) with follow-up surveys of these students as they have been out in the working world." I believe John is referencing surveys like what is planned shortly on "becoming scientists" as listed on their website.

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