Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Educational Leadership, Research and Technology

First Advisor

Louann Bierlein Palmer, Ed.D.

Second Advisor

Adam Manley, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

Wanda M. Hadley, Ph.D.


Career choices, career decision making, career education and development, influences on career decisions, postsecondary career decisions, postsecondary pathways


This study explored factors that influence the postsecondary career decisions of 427 11th and 12th grade students in a guaranteed tuition-based school district in a Midwestern state. Since 2005, this district has had a “Promise” program where eligible students can get up to 100% of their postsecondary tuition paid to attend a college, university, technical, or skilled trade program, or participate in an apprenticeship. Students have up to 10 years after graduating high school to utilize the funding. In addition, students who decide to enter the military after high school have up to 10 years to utilize the funding after being discharged from service. This research focused on students’ attitudes and beliefs about career fulfillment, level of understanding of career development, perceived influential relationships, perceived barriers, and perceived impact of having access to guaranteed tuition-based funding in making their postsecondary career decisions.

The research design of this study was a quantitative experimental research design using an online survey instrument. The data was analyzed using descriptive statistics, a Stepwise multiple linear regression, and an ANOVA.

Descriptive statistics revealed that 301 students out of 427 students in the study indicated their postsecondary plans after high school was to pursue a 2-year or 4-year degree. The remaining 126 students indicated they plan to pursue pathways other than college after high school. With 6.00 being the most positive Likert scale option for all items on the survey, students had a high level of confidence about their knowledge about themselves (M 4.58), attitude about their future (M 4.51), and their skills to achieve their career goals (M 4.43). Students also indicated that job characteristics (M 4.30), courses taken at school (M 4.02), and the quality of life (M 3.99) had the most influence on their career pathway decisions. In addition, students shared that in-school activities such as career exploration opportunities (M 3.62), job seeking skills (M 3.48), career-related assignments (M 3.31), and career fairs (M 3.31) were most important in helping them decide their career pathway. Students also indicated that out-of-school activities such as employment (M 3.69), career and technical education courses (M 3.54), and work-based learning opportunities (M 3.34) were also important in helping them to decide a career pathway. Furthermore, students selected their parent/guardian (M 4.00), teachers (M 3.49), and their friends (M. 3.33) as having the most influence on their career decisions. First-generation college students who responded that they planned to attend college after high school (109), rated financial support (M 4.61), navigating college (M 4.58), and graduating college (M 4.34) as higher concerns.

In terms of having access to guaranteed tuition-based postsecondary funding, students indicated that having The Kalamazoo Promise (M 5.21), always wanting to go to college (M 4.83), academic reasons (M 4.75), and my career requires college (M 4.75) as being most influential in their career decision to go to college after high school. However, students agreed less that having The Kalamazoo Promise decreased their anxiety in deciding a career pathway (M 3.40), inspired them to decide a career pathway (M 3.35), or is the reason they chose their career pathway (M 2.78).

Other key findings from the ANOVA indicated that there were significant differences in gender in the constructs of influential relationships (p <.004), guaranteed postsecondary funding (p <.002), career fulfillment (p <.021), and for career development (p <.023). There were also significant differences in race for the constructs of influential relationships (p <.017), guaranteed postsecondary funding (p <.010), career decisions (p <.004), and career development (p <.019).

Additional key findings through the regression revealed that influential relationships (t =11.472, p <0.01), career development (t =5.773, p <0.01), barriers (t = 3.137, p < .05), and career fulfillment (t= 2.119, p <0.05) had a significant effect and were predictors of career decision making, and accounted for 60.6% of the variance related to postsecondary career decision making.

This research can inform K-12 course and curriculum alignment and development, career development initiatives, program planning, counseling and guidance, professional development, and help to structure and provide high quality and equitable in-school and out-of-school experiential activities and work-based learning experiences. In addition, this research can inform policies and assist with identifying and developing intentional pipelines of talent to address critical skills and talent shortages in high-demand occupations. Districts can also use this research to provide additional supports and resources to help students overcome perceived barriers related to being a first-generation student as well as help to identify and support the career champions that are most influential in their postsecondary career decisions.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access