Making decisions about going to university in the 21st century: theoretical underpinnings versus reality- a case of Polish students

The literature review indicates that one of the most under-researched areas in higher education are factors that determine the decision-making process of young people regarding going to university. There is a number of recognised theories that describe this complex process, in particular the theory of rational choice, expectancy-value theory, motivation theory and self-determination theory.

Without empirical studies, it is impossible to conclude which one or ones of these depict current choices made by young people and, thus, what expectations and motivations drive them to go to university. Yet examining the context of these decisions is significant for a number of reasons. Academically it allows, among others, to understand the mechanisms that shape human capital in the economy. From the point of view of application of such research, it will help universities optimise their modernisation activities, be it in institutional, curriculum or marketing-related areas, thereby contributing to the improvement of their standing on the market of educational services.

During the presentation, we plan to present results of research on the decision-making process of young Poles to pursue an academic degree in one of the following three programmes: geography, spatial planning, tourism and recreation.

The research objective was to:
– look at the intricacies of the educational decision-making process and determine factors that affect the final decision to study at university.
– determine which principles of the theories of choice explicate and depict mechanisms that govern the choice of degree programmes made by Polish students.

To achieve the research objectives, we used a nationwide diagnostic survey conducted in May and June 2018. The survey covers 1557 respondents in total – final year students of bachelor’s and master’s programmes from 15 Polish universities. The respondents had to engage in a retrospective reflection and recall their own memories about the moment the idea to pursue an academic degree crossed their minds, how it took on a more concrete shape, and details on the final choice of a specific course.

During the theoretical part of the study we established that the decision-making process with all its characteristics is a complex and multi-faceted issue. For this reason we analysed the collected results using both quantitative and qualitative methods. Based on the analyses, we established correlations between the key motivation to study at university and: gender, age, respondent’s location of residence and the size of their place of residence, chosen field of study at university, type of secondary school attended, final grade in the secondary school leaving certificate, how independent their decision to go to university was, and at which point in time they made the decision to study.

Establishing the above correlations allowed us to achieve both research objectives. Moreover, the results provide a basis for an in-depth reflection on the effect of the decision-making process on the attitudes and expectations of young people towards academic education in Poland.

Published in:

D. Piróg, W. Kilar, R. Rettinger (2018) Making decisions about going to university in the 21st century: theoretical underpinnings versus reality- a case of Polish students, ICERI2018 Proceedings, pp. 8664-8671. ISBN: 978-84-09-05948-5