Locus of Control and Educational Aspirations in Post-Compulsory Education

Thursday, 2 July 2015: 2:15 PM-3:45 PM
CLM.4.02 (Clement House)
Katharina Jaik, University of Zurich / Chair of Prof. Uschi Backes-Gellner, Zurich, Switzerland
Stefan C. Wolter, University of Bern / CESifo / IZA, Bern, Switzerland
In this paper, we investigate the impact of locus of control on educational aspirations using a large sample of 8th graders in Switzerland and controlling for other non-cognitive skills, cognitive skills, and a rich set of student background information. Non-cognitive skills are especially interesting for the educational planner because they are – compared to cognitive skills – even malleable until adolescence. In several countries in the world, students have to make important educational and career-related decisions before the end of compulsory schooling. Our self-collected data set with 1500 students in 89 classes is from the second biggest Swiss Canton, Bern, where students at the age of 15 have to decide in a risky and competitive environment whether to continue their school career in an academically oriented baccalaureate school to get university access afterwards or to apply for a dual apprenticeship, which combines vocational schooling and practical work in a company. Those seeking an apprenticeship post have to apply for these positions. Competition for the most wanted occupations and with the most popular employers can be quite fierce, because the application procedures for popular apprenticeship posts with favored employers typically start one to one and a half years before compulsory school ends and the number of applicants is high. Those students choosing the general schooling options also find themselves in a competitive and risky situation. Although there is no explicit rationing of places at baccalaureate schools, the access is implicitly limited by the number of schools and teachers and therefore and especially in times of excess demand for study places, the admission decisions in many Cantons are based either on admission tests or on the condition of higher grade levels. In addition, students have the choice between opting for a direct and seamless transition into upper secondary education and postponing their educational decision and choosing and interim solution, which is costly for the students as well as for the public.

We find that locus of control is a strong statistically significant explanatory variable for the aspirations 8th graders have towards the decisions they have to take in the 9th grade. One of the advantages of our data set is the timing of our survey at the beginning of the 8th grade, which enables us to solve an enormous part of the reversed causality problem that is often associated with non-cognitive skills. The effect sizes are considerable: one standard deviation of locus of control changes the share of students intending to enter an upper secondary education program directly by 4.5 percentage points and the probability to intent to go to an academic baccalaureate school by 2.7 percentage points. The considerable effect size of locus of control on our outcome variables highlights the possibility for powerful interventions at the beginning of the decision-making process of students in compulsory school. In addition the results indicate, that a delayed transition into upper secondary education has to be addressed other than just by additional material and information on educational choices.