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A survey comparison of career motivations of social work and business students.

CAREER DEVELOPMENT is an important issue for social workers. There is considerable existing research examining the personal attributes and professional expectations of those interested in social work careers (Karls, Lowery, Mattaini, & Wandrei, 1997). However, there is a dearth of available literature that would compare the motivations and goals of social workers to other career tracks (Abell & McDonell, 1990). This is surprising, as educators who influence the future of the profession need to understand the motives, aspirations, and expectations of individuals in training for careers in social work. Ideally, students who pursue social work education should be well suited to advancing the profession's foundational goal of bettering the human condition. Alternatively, students from non-socially focused educational programs, particularly business college disciplines that are not considered among the helping professions, might be thought to have differing career and educational motivations.

Very different personal ambitions and career outcomes might be expected between professionals pursuing a master of social work (MSW) or master of science in social work (MSSW; hereafter also referred to as MSW), when compared to careers such as a master's degree in business administration (MBA). In terms of relative career suitability and sustainability, it is important to understand the values, attitudes, and goals of aspiring professional students in training. Students pursuing advanced social work degrees have often had substantial prior experience in assisting others, particularly in the voluntary and public service sectors (Papadaki, 2001). Many are already employed in case services occupations with some initial practice experience, prior to entry into a graduate program. Often graduates continue on as more highly ranked case workers or as supervisors within the same or related service institutions following graduation. Before looking at unique differences, we should establish some similarities between social work graduate students and degree seekers in other disciplines such as business.

For example, students completing their undergraduate degrees in either social work or business programs have usually received at least 16 years of formal education. Having spent such a substantial portion of their lives in school, both MSW and MBA seekers then make the decision to continue with more years of education. Motivation levels must be assumed to be high as this extended pursuit often requires considerable personal sacrifice. The reentry into graduate school occurs typically at a time when the student has been working full-time and frequently has acquired a spouse and children (Simpson, 2000). The average age of graduate students is approximately 26 to 28 years (Joiner, 2004).

One notable similarity between the MSW and the MBA is that they are both essentially perceived to be terminal degree programs, requiring no additional or doctoral-level education to move on toward independent practice or supervisory roles within agencies, or other specified autonomous career outcomes (Bowman, 2005). However, this is where the commonality between social work and business degree paths is thought to end. Graduate social workers often continue on in careers that are agency, or social service delivery based, in many instances without becoming independent providers of service. Alternatively, business school graduates tend to provide goods or services through prevailing business models to the consuming public, often with the goal of being financially successful and substantially more autonomous (Kopelman, Prottas, & Tatum, 2004).

The MSW degree and social work education in general have been described as having subordinated academic status when compared to many other academic fields of study (Green, 2006). However, a possible career motivation that may be considered a relative strength of social work education is that social work has become something of a success story in recruiting students from disenfranchised populations into higher education, with relatively high degrees of diverse and multicultural participation (Jones, 2006). When recruiting efforts are maintained, the MSW degree is useful in allowing career entry for interested and motivated minorities, and those from less economically competitive beginnings (Bowie & Hanrock, 2000). The MBA serves a different purpose. It has been described as the ultimate academic achievement in preparation for business-oriented or profit-sector careers (Mintzberg, 2004). Great numbers of adult workers continue to find it attractive. The perceived value of the MBA can be observed by the growth in annual U.S. graduates from a mere 3,200 in 1956 (Zimmerman, 2001) to rates that have exceeded 100,000 per year since the late 1990s (Leonhardt, 2000; Mintzberg, 2004).

Compared to other postgraduate careers, most sectors of social work careers offer lower salaries (Kaladjian, 2003), whereas advanced business degrees are associated with relatively high pay (Connolly, 2003). The perceived potential for career salary is just one contributing factor in determining the graduate degree satisfaction of various students. Additionally, a qualitative study has inferred that students' satisfaction with their respective degrees is influenced in part by an array of perceptions of quality (Rapert, Smith, Velliquette, & Garretson, 2004), particularly the quality of instructional faculty (Kyle & Festervand, 2005).

In comparing the value of differing graduate degrees, information is mostly anecdotal, other than income considerations. The purpose of this field study is to identify some specific characteristics of social work degree seekers, in order to inform policymakers how these adult students are motivated. There is a vital need in professional graduate education to understand how personal values and career aspirations relate to educational objectives of the postgraduate professional (Neumann, 2005). Emerging technology in online surveys can provide one practical method of determining or evaluating the career motivations and objectives of professionals in training (Larson, 2005), and can also provide useful decision support for professional program and curriculum developers.

Literature Review

Adults have many possible reasons, goals, or career motivations to pursue advanced degrees in social work or business administration. These include career independence and advancement (careerism), perceived organizational mobility, job advancement, or simply a desire for further professional knowledge. Overall, there is general consensus, substantiated by several studies, that graduate degrees tend to enhance skills and increase wages for recipients (Grubb, 1993; Heywood, 1994; Hungerford & Solon, 1987). In another study, Arkes (1999) found that holders of advanced degrees performed better on standardized tests and received higher pay than those with bachelor's degrees. In addition to the specialized knowledge acquired by workers or the applicability of that knowledge to a given job, a graduate degree increases the individual's value by furnishing a signaling of abilities (Spence, 1974) in which employers assume workers to be more competent when they have more education (Chiswick, 1973). This signaling of abilities, known as the "sheepskin effect," places a special value on the motivation and personal character that is required for completion of a degree, even when the worker's ability represented by the degree is either already known by the employer or not particularly needed (Belman & Heywood, 1991; Frazis, 1993).

As the responsibility for career development of social workers and other professionals has shifted from employer to employee, workers must take the initiative to acquire knowledge, skills, and abilities that will maximize their careers (Sparrow & Cooper, 2003). Employability (Fugate & Ashworth, 2003) refers to self-management of boundaryless careers that are likely to span multiple organizations (Arthur, Inkson, & Pringle, 1999; Eby, Butts, & Lockwood, 2003). In social work as in other professions workers are required to make continual efforts to meet demands of the external environment in order to sustain a career (MacKenzie, 2003). One of the elements of employability is the worker's human capital in terms of perceived potential for productivity (Becker, 1975) that is increased through education and training (Wanberg, Watt, & Rumsey, 1996).

Though the MSW degree has been viewed as a method of advancing within the service professions (Council on Social Work Education, 2006), the MBA has been widely considered an excellent way for workers to develop themselves in the acquisition of management skills that will enhance their career opportunities (Sturges, Simpson, & Altman, 2003). Those seeking career degrees in the service professions may have different career motives, expectations, goals, and outcomes, as compared to those seeking career degrees that are not in the service professions.


One possible motive for seeking any type of graduate degree is a careerist strategy, which focuses to some extent on individual gain. An individual with a careerist orientation is at some level an opportunist who tends to put his or her self-interest ahead of the interests of the organization (Aryee & Chen, 2004). He or she would therefore tend to pursue advancement by networking, building friendships, and working the political grapevine. According to this definition, the noncareerist would tend to seek security in the organization by working extra hours and pursuing goals that are congruent with the long-term interests of the organization (Thompson, Kirkham, & Dixon, 1985). Feldman and Weitz (1991) found the careerist orientation to be negatively related to job involvement, job satisfaction, and organizational commitment, but positively related to a disposition to change jobs (Chay & Aryee, 1999).

Careerists seek professional relationships that will open doors for them rather than furnish affiliation and relatedness needs (Kram, 1985). Implicit with careerism is the belief that self-interest is dominant and that the "organization-man" commitment does not exist (Aryee &Chen, 2004). Careerist attitudes have been shown to affect turnover of physicians, but not paramedical employees or nurses, suggesting that turnover behavior is occupation specific (Mano-Negrin & Kirschenbaum, 1999). Careerism has not been previously studied with advanced degree seekers in either social work or business.

Learning Motives

Students elect to take part in graduate studies for different reasons than the pursuit of their undergraduate degrees (MacKenzie, 2003). Although the undergraduate degree is career focused, it furnishes a broad exposure that has included substantial general education requirements for the purpose of providing a well-rounded educational experience. When entering a master's program, the interests of the students have become focused on a more narrow path of studies that lead them to a higher professional level (MacKenzie, 2003) with skills in many instances that facilitate resource allocation and maintaining the functioning of individuals or groups (Naito-Chan, Damron-Rodriguez, & Simmons, 2004).

Motivation to participate in educational activities is influenced by worker beliefs that these activities will result in favorable outcomes (Noe & Wilk, 1993). In addition to the knowledge and skills gained through the educational process are improvements in functional outcomes that make up the transfer of learning (Naquin & Holton, 2003). Professionally, these outcomes include increased income, recognition by managers or peers, and increased chances for promotion (Dubin, 1990; Farr & Middlebrooks, 1990). The present study examines workers who are currently involved in a learning process and attempts to connect their motives for pursuing education to their perceptions of potential outcomes.

Per an early educational model, Houle (1961) proposed that adult education participants have three primary orientations: to pursue goals, activities, or learning. The goal-oriented learner seeks advancement and competency by comparing his or her performance to others. This is distinct from a learning orientation that seeks knowledge to satisfy an inquiring mind and a desire of learning for its own sake. An activities orientation for learning seeks the satisfaction of needs for social contact, community service, and a relief of mundane routines. Recognition of the complexity of learning motivation has increased dramatically since 1961, but most classifications can be collapsed back into Houle's original typology (Fujita-Starck, 1996).

Drawing on Houle's typology is the education participation scale (EPS) (Boshier, 1991), a multidimensional measure that captures motivational orientations of adults participating in educational activities. The six factors identified in developing the EPS are Social Contact, Social Stimulation, Professional Advancement, Community Service, External Expectations, and Cognitive Interest. The six subscales are usually examined individually by researchers (Boshier, 1971, 1977; Boshier & Collins, 1983; Fujita-Starck, 1996; O'Connor, 1979, 1982), indicating that there is not an overall construct of learning motivational orientation (Dia, Smith, Cohen-Callow, & Bliss, 2005).

Two of the EPS factors were selected for this study. These were Professional Advancement and Perceived Organizational Mobility. The first EPS factor selected, Professional Advancement, describes learning to keep up with competition and to provide higher job status. In cluster analysis, it matches the Houle dimension of goal orientation (Boshier & Collins, 1985). The other dimension is desire for knowledge, which is associated with the Houle dimension of learning orientation. It emphasizes the desire for learning that satisfies the worker's curiosity for knowledge and the desire to be more competent. The desire for knowledge scale and professional advancement scale have been shown to be highly correlated (O'Connor, 1982).

Perceived Organizational Mobility

Perceived Organizational Mobility is the second EPS factor selected for this study. Workers who invest in their own skills assume that the results will include higher pay and continued employment (McKenzie & Lee, 1998). However, in an era of the boundaryless career (Eby et al., 2003; Sullivan, 1999), mobility to other organizations can often be expected. Relationships with a current employer can be interrupted by restructuring, downsizing, and other threats to job security (Miles & Snow, 1996), causing movement to different jobs, organizations, and careers (Arthur & Rousseau, 1996). Motivations to pursue master's-level education in relationship to perceived employment mobility have not been previously studied. This is a distinct contribution to extensive existing research evaluating the economic cost/benefits of graduate education.

It is common to find withdrawal behavior developing when workers become disappointed about some aspect of their job experience, to the extent that they do not feel at ease (Taris & Feij, 2001). As withdrawal behavior progresses, it is termed intention to turnover, intention to leave, or intention to quit. In examining the progression of the turnover process, research has generally shown that causal relationships of various elements of the job lead to job dissatisfaction, creating low organizational commitment, followed by intention to turnover (Bluedorn, 1979; Price & Bluedorn, 1979; Price & Mueller, 1979) and ultimately leading to actual turnover. This is known as the dissatisfaction-quit sequence (Mobley, 1977; Lee, Mitchell, Holtom, McDaniel, & Hill, 1999).

An employment opportunity index was developed by Griffeth, Steel, Allen, and Bryan (2005) as a measure of the portion of the turnover process that involves workers' consideration of perceived ability to maintain employment by moving to a different organization. It is a measurement scale intended to capture job mobility perceptions through a group of microprocesses. The index is composed of five factors that bear a relationship to constructs used in previous research to measure alternative job search behaviors. Three of the factors relate to mobility in terms of the degree of difficulty in changing organizational affiliation. They are Ease of Movement, Desirability of Movement, and Mobility. Another factor is a refinement of job alternatives called Crystallization of Alternatives. The last factor is a measure of networking. Ease of movement and desirability of movement were described by March and Simon (1958) as being instrumental to the motivation to either stay with an organization or leave. Workers are unlikely to quit without taking into consideration the alternatives that might be available.

Ease of Movement. Ease of Movement (Jackofsky & Peters, 1983; Michaels & Spector, 1982) is a construct that identifies the general impression of accessibility to alternative jobs (Steel, Lounsberry, & Horst, 1981). It asks the ease with which the respondent feels he or she could find alternate employment, based on his or her awareness of the number and availabilities of jobs. Obviously, students pursuing graduate degrees may recognize their own human capital (Becker, 1975) as it relates to ease of movement.

Desirability of Movement. Whereas Ease of Movement refers to the quantity of jobs available, Desirability of Movement pertains to the job quality of those alternatives (Billings & Wemmerus, 1983; Farrell & Rusbult, 1981; Peters, Jackofsky, & Salter, 1981). It is possible to generate a number of alternative jobs with out having any real improvement in the work situation. Thus, the key element to Desirability of Movement is the expectation that a job change would be for the purpose of obtaining a better job (Griffeth et al., 2005).

A conceptual model based on these career goals or motives that would differentiate the possible motivations and educational goals of those entering MSW programs as compared to those preferring to enter MBA or related graduate work can be devised. The depicted model includes a number of observations derived from the literature and discussed here that account for the differentiation of career intentions, or goals, and provide direction for those developing graduate educational programs that are intended to meet the career needs of the adult learner. See the conceptual model proposed in Figure 1.



This exploratory online study of MSW and MBA student career intentions examines potential differences in educational goals and desired outcomes for two divergent educational career programs. The study examines career intention via the variable of careerism or careerist orientation and perceived job mobility. Careerism, or careerist orientation, may be defined as the pursuit of professional advancement as one's chief or sole aim (American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 2000). Comparisons are based on the following hypotheses:

1. MSW students are less careerist oriented and less perceptive of alternative jobs available to them than MBA graduate students.

2. Careerism is related to perceptions of organizational mobility.

3. Perceived organizational mobility of social work students is more related to a desire to gain knowledge than a desire for professional advancement.


In examining the research questions, a field study was performed using current master's-level students from two different colleges at a large southwestern university. The school of social work had 1,054 students registered at the master's level, whereas the business college had 923 students registered at the master's level. The MSW students all major in social work, though they are organized into three concentrations or subspecialty tracts, identified as (1) the children and family concentration, (2) the mental health concentration, or (3) the community and administration practice concentration. These three concentrations were not differentiated within the sample. In the business school 48% were identified as MBA generalists, and the others were specialized master's students in finance, health care administration, marketing, accounting, information systems, and human resources. These specialized program students earn an MS degree. There was no significant or reportable difference in initial t-test comparisons between MBAs and specialized MS students.

MSW students were compared to business students for the constructs of this study. Ease of movement and desirability of movement were dependent or assessed variables, representing perceived organizational mobility. Desire for advancement, professional knowledge, and careerism were independent variables. Control variables were age, gender, marital status, current earnings, and anticipated time until graduation. Both social work and business students responded to a Web-based survey. A total of 165 social work students responded out of 1,054 e-mail requests for a response rate of 16%. The business master's respondents were 223 out of 902 requested, for a 25% response rate. As an incentive to participate in the survey, there were five randomly selected cash rewards of $100 each offered.

These response rates are consistent with Web-based rates that are often 20% or less (Sheehan, 2001). High response rates of 60-70% from early e-mail surveys (Kiesler & Sproull, 1986) have steadily declined each year, possibly because of "survey fatigue" as the novelty has worn off e-questionnaires (Saxon, Garralt, Gilroy, & Cairns, 2003). Sills and Song (2002) received an overall response rate of 22% after three waves of solicitations, but response rates can be as low as 3% (Im & Chee, 2004). Entering respondents for a prize drawing does not necessarily increase response rates, although providing a small gift to all subjects has been seen to facilitate a response rate of 31% (Cobanoglu & Cobanoglu, 2003).

Survey respondents were master's-level graduate students. They were contacted via email in a letter from a department official using e-mail addresses on file with the graduate school. The letter asked that students voluntarily take part in a study to assist in development and evaluation of programs, and offered respondents an inducement of one of five $100 awards to be randomly drawn. Included in the e-mail was a hyperlink that took them into the Web-based survey. Respondents were first presented an informed consent that met the university's research compliance specifications. Subjects were asked to click on an approval icon, which confirmed their consent to take part in the study. This initiated the survey process. At the conclusion of the questionnaire, respondents were asked to enter their last name and the last four digits of their student identification number, which was used to match their responses to archival data and prevent multiple submissions.

All scaled items came from existing instruments used previously in training and development and turnover literature. Cronbach's alpha was .70 or greater for all measures. They were found to load cleanly in varimax rotation in confirmatory factor analysis with no cross-loadings.

Careerism was measured using a 19-item careerism scale developed by Feldman and Weitz (1991). Respondents were asked the extent to which they agreed or disagreed on each item on a 5-point scale ranging from strongly disagree to strongly agree. A sample statement for the scale was "I cannot count on organizations to look out for my own best interests." The reliability of the scale was a Cronbach's alpha of .85.

Professional knowledge and advancement were measured with the Education Participation Scale (Boshier, 1991) on a 5-point Likert-type scale (1=strongly disagree to 5=strongly agree). A sample item for professional advancement is, "To give me higher status on my job." The desire for knowledge was represented by, "To seek knowledge for its own sake." Cronbach's alpha for these scales was 0.73 and 0.85, respectively.

Responses to the dimensions of the Employment Opportunity Index (Griffeth et al., 2005) were also made on a 5-point scale. Ease of Movement ([alpha]=0.70) is structured to reveal the quantity of available jobs with items such as "I can think of a number of organizations that would probably offer me a job if I were looking." Desirability of Movement ([alpha]=0.85) differs in its concern with the acquisition of a better job with items such as "By and large, the jobs I could get if I left here are superior to the job I have now."


Means, standard deviations, and correlations are shown in Table 1. Hypothesis 1, which predicted that social work students are less careerist oriented and less perceptive of alternative jobs available than business students, was partially refuted in an interesting way. Although analysis of variance (ANOVA; see Table 2) showed a significant difference between social work and business students in careerist orientation, (F=7.254(1, 384), p<.01), the social work students were more careerist than business students. This would indicate that social work students were more inclined to believe that they needed to look out for their own best interests than were the business students. However, the careerist social work students perceived a potential for organizational mobility in the form of ease of movement ([beta]=.251, p<.01, [R.sup.2]=0.15, p<0.05), whereas careerist business students were associated with desirability of movement ([beta]=.168, p<.01, [R.sup.2]=0.24, p<0.001) (see Tables 3 and 4).

Hypothesis 2 was supported in its finding that careerism was significantly related to organizational mobility. Ease of movement was the only mobility construct significantly related ([beta]=.251, p<.01, [R.sup.2]=0.15, p<0.05) to careerism of social work students in regression analysis. The interpretation of Hypotheses 1 and 2 is that social work careerists believe replacement jobs are plentiful but that they are not necessarily better jobs. This indicates that careerism is an important motivation for students who return to graduate school, although it influences social work students in a different way than business students. Although careerist social work students recognize the ease of finding a replacement job, careerist business master's students recognize the existence of better jobs instead of just any job ([beta]=.168, p<.01, [R.sup.2]=0.24, p<0.001).

The third hypothesis examined perceived organizational mobility in light of motivations for pursuing additional education. Table 3 indicates that for social work students a desire to gain knowledge is related to recognition of better jobs available ([beta]=.161, p<.05, [R.sup.2]=0.25, p<0.05), whereas business students were motivated by a desire for professional advancement ([beta]=123, p<.05, [R.sup.2]=0.24, p<0.05) and not by a desire to gain knowledge (see Tables 3 and 4). Although this finding is intuitive, no other studies have been found that empirically examine this motivational difference.


These survey results indicate that social work students in this sample tended to return to college to gain more knowledge, whereas the motives of students returning to college for a graduate degree in business were more associated with career advancement. It is also clear that a career advancement outlook, characterized by a careerist orientation, is an influential motivation. Although the career-oriented business students within the sample recognized that better jobs were available to them, perceptions of better jobs available for the social work students were not related to careerism but instead to a desire for seeking knowledge. The business students recognized an abundance of better jobs when motivated by professional advancement, although a desire for additional knowledge was not seen as a significant motivator.

Some caution should be exercised in inferring, however, that those with a careerist orientation succeed in some way by placing self-interest consistently ahead of their employing organization. These limited survey findings suggest some initial differential career orientation that may be related to career selection or professional training interest. This study is less concerned with actual longer term success factors in predicting career advancement, than in exploring career orientations in terms of early professional education selection. Literature is available elsewhere on the relationship of career development to multiple performance predictors such as job competency, job satisfaction, career investment effort, and career altruism in the helping professions. These aspects of career motivation and development are beyond the scope of this study.

Another summary comment about the career goals of social work master's students is that the significant relationship between careerism (not being convinced that the organization has their best interest at heart) and high ease of movement may be associated with being receptive to making a lateral or reduced-position job change. Thus, the social work graduate students are less likely than business students within the respective samples to be using the master's degree exclusively for career advancement purposes.

Study Limitations

This study has a number of limitations that affect the inference or generalizability of the survey findings. This is not unusual for a first exploration or pilot approach to exploring a series of research questions. For example, the study employed a nonrandomized sampling strategy and used a single method for gathering data on two convenience samples of unequal size. Therefore, the two groups cannot be assumed to be equivalent though a number of statistical procedures have been applied to gain some comparable information on the two student groups surveyed. Conclusions therefore should be considered tentative and dependent on confirmation in future similar, but more extensive, scientific inquiries. This study adds to the current understanding of individual goals of graduate students in social work and business despite some anticipated methodological limitations.

For example, the use of self-reports through a survey creates the well-known problem of common-method bias. That is, there is a possibility that a spurious internal consistency could occur, because of the common source of the surveyed information. Although researchers are skeptical of results derived from personal opinions (Spector, 1994), it has been pointed out that it is often necessary to obtain data from the only people with accurate knowledge, which would be the respondents themselves (Maurer & Tarulli, 1994; Noe & Wilk, 1993). Triangulation of survey methods or nonpurposive sampling methods is recommended to address this issue in future similar study.

Furthermore, as is evident in the data and common to many Web-based surveys, is the problem of low response rates, or nonresponse. There could be important differences between the views expressed by respondents and those that did not reply. This limitation has in past been diminished by multiple methods or triangulation of survey data collection. The response generalizations are further limited by the selection of a sample from a single U.S. university setting. However, this is a common limitation of smaller-scale initial or pilot survey studies. Additional samples from multiple settings could provide increased confidence of findings or of subsequent recommendations made.

Finally, there may be dimensions of survey comparison such as differential levels of organizational mobility that may apply differently to the sample subjects, as the social work cohort may contain a greater number of those who seek promotion within an organization as a career goal. The discussion and recommendations to follow should be understood with these methodological limitations.

Tentative Implications for Social Work Educators

Although quality of curriculum is the primary concern of master's-level education in social work or business, it is also important to consider the motivations and goals of students. For example, business students within this survey sample were observed to be motivated by career advancement, whereas social work students within this survey sample had a desire to increase their knowledge. From the data derived from these respondents, a differing approach would then be indicated for administrators in the two disciplines toward recruiting, advertising of programs, and job placement assistance. Although marketing efforts to grow a business master's program should seriously consider the career advancement motives of potential candidates, according to this sample MSW students will be attracted to schools that convey their ability to meet the desires of knowledge and skills acquisition.

This study also indicates that job placement is another potential area of emphasis among the sample respondents, both as an outcome for graduates and in marketing the master's program to new students. Because MSW students within the sample are more motivated toward knowledge acquisition than professional advancement, a wide range of opportunities available through the school's placement resources group might be a consideration. The diverse individual differences of graduates of the sample would influence the career direction for making the best use of knowledge and skills that have been acquired within the graduate program. Placement opportunities that the school could present to its graduates could emphasize the use of knowledge that the students have gained, irrespective of increases in rank or pay. A greater understanding of social work graduate students, derived from this and similar studies, could also assist social work schools to meet the service delivery needs for the local human services community by preparing and marketing these students to organizations prior to graduation.

The implications of this study for researchers show that much further work needs to be done to investigate the value of advanced degrees in both social work and business. For example, further research would be useful to professional training schools in determining what other ways advanced degrees in either social work or business tend to enhance respective careers. Social work graduates may have the ability to add value to organizations based on applying their knowledge and training, whereas business graduates appear to be more interested in status and competitiveness elements of their career advancement. Whereas social work graduates may make better service-oriented decisions in knowledge-based jobs, business graduates may be more interested in maximizing their outcomes in organizations that are profit driven. Therefore, additional questions relative to career goals remain concerning the content of master's-level social work versus business education, in creating a true value-added benefit to the respective service organizations with which graduate students seek to become associated. This extends also to other stakeholders such as the community and clients that are influenced by the education of these workers. Given these findings and remaining concerns, what then are areas of potential program strengths or weaknesses of current social work curricula, which may need to be addressed to create a better career fit for graduate degree-seeking students, and which serve to improve academic- and programmatic-level training outcomes?

Classroom and field practicum social work educators will want to be cognizant of the specific goals and career outcomes of graduate social work students as these interact with curriculum design and delivery. Career advancement and independence or entrepreneurial interests may be a lesser considerations for social work graduate students, though interorganizational promotion, knowledge, and applied skills acquisition may be of greater educational relevance. Therefore, social work instructors may want to address the many lateral options for career change within the social work profession and be sensitive to motivators associated with student age and maturity level and practical opportunities for earnings increases within established service delivery organizations.

Recommendations for Future Research

A first recommendation for future similar research would be to address the readily identifiable limitation of survey nonresponse or small relative numbers of respondents, which restricts generalization of the findings to the student populations studied in this investigation. However, there is a small but growing body of research that suggests that nonresponse to survey research has become a general trend over the past several decades (Groves, Presser, & Dipko, 2004). In one comparative survey study the differences between a rigorously controlled survey effort with large sample response and another with substantial nonresponse rates did not substantially alter generalization of findings (Keeter, Miller, Kohut, Groves, & Presser, 2000). Furthermore, Web-based surveys are considered too new to determine what constitutes reasonable or reliable response rates.

Second, another recommendation for further research would be to also address the methodological limitation resultant from inclusion of graduate social work and business students from only one major U.S. university, which inhibits the potential generalizability of the survey findings. Future studies could provide validation of these results through surveys of multiple schools, perhaps in multiple countries. However, students represented here are located in a very large and diverse metropolitan area and work for a broad array of organizations. Ideally, future studies would also include objective dependent variables and a longitudinal design. This would overcome the limits imposed by traditional survey research using cross-sectional design.

Third, an essential recommendation would be to additionally address in the survey content both inter- and intraorganizational mobility as an outcome variable. This would capture career goals of workers who are on an internal career track with their current organization, as a somewhat hidden subsample of those seeking professional education, and is frequently the case with social workers seeking career advancement with an employer. Access to larger organizations, or collections of professional schools, for future research would add an important dimension of mobility and career growth both inter- and intraorganizationally. It needs to be reiterated that perceptions of mobility among either social work or business students identified in this study do not necessarily mean that respondents are looking for a job. These perceptions are merely the first steps in the all too frequent job-turnover process that is common to both social services and business employment. This study provides a first effort to compare differential career motivations of advanced-degree seekers in social work to those MBAs on a business career path in business administration. These survey findings can serve as both a primary source for further comparisons and as much-needed decision-support information for those developing educational programs suited to differing career and professional orientations. The desire of social work students to pursue their master's studies more for the purpose of knowledge acquisition than for professional advancement is an important contribution to our understanding of social work professional development.

Accepted: 04/08


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Randall E. Basham

University of Texas at Arlington

F. Robert Buchanan

University of Central Oklahoma

Randall E. Basham is associate professor at the University of Texas at Arlington. F. Robert Buchanan is assistant professor, College of Business Administration, at the University of Central Oklahoma.

Address correspondence to Randall E. Basham, University of Texas at Arlington, School of Social Work, 211 S. Cooper St., Box 19129, Arlington TX 76019-0129; e-mail:
Table 1. Means, Standard Deviations, and Intercorrelations for
Dependent and Independent Variables Predicting Aspects of
Careerism Among Social Work and Business Graduate Students

Measure M SD 1 2

 Social Work Students

Ease of movement 2.84 .69 -
Desirability of movement 2.14 .59 -.01 -
Months to graduation 11.07 8.26 .10 -.01
Age 29.49 7.82 -.10 .10
Marital status .37 .48 -.30 ** -.10
Current earnings 22,708 13,573 .04 -.30 **
Gender 1.92 .26 .15 .04
Careerism 3.18 .45 .15 .15
Knowledge 3.20 .85 .20 * .20 *
Prof. advancement 2.78 .89 -.04 -.22 **
Social work to business .42 .49 -.47 ** -.55 **

 Business Students

Ease of movement 3.71 .81 -
Desirability of movement 3.29 .94 -.02 -
Months to graduation 14.59 10.30 -.25 ** -.13
Age 33.32 8.83 -.04 -.10
Marital status .57 .50 -.05 -.14 *
Current earnings 56,734 29,754 .19 ** -.38 **
Gender 1.54 .50 .00 -.08
Careerism 2.79 .50 -.15 * .251 **
Knowledge 3.24 .98 .03 -.04
Prof. advancement 3.02 .85 -.02 .16 *

Measure 3 4 5 6

 Social Work Students

Ease of movement
Desirability of movement
Months to graduation --
Age .05 --
Marital status .11 .31 ** --
Current earnings .13 .30 ** .21 **
Gender -.02 -.21 ** -.03 -.02
Careerism -.12 .22 * .19 * -.01
Knowledge .07 .13 -.04 -.10
Prof. advancement -.21 ** -.04 -.10 .01
Social work to business -.18 ** -.22 ** -.20 ** -.57 **

 Business Students

Ease of movement
Desirability of movement
Months to graduation --
Age .02 --
Marital status .01 .32 ** --
Current earnings .01 .43 ** .29 ** --
Gender .03 .00 .18 ** -.70
Careerism -.03 .00 -.12 -.15 *
Knowledge -.03 .07 -.01 .00
Prof. advancement -.05 -.02 .08 -.06

Measure 7 8 9 10

 Social Work Students

Ease of movement
Desirability of movement
Months to graduation
Marital status
Current earnings
Gender --
Careerism -.11 --
Knowledge .01 .20 * -.08 --
Prof. advancement .20 * -.08 --
Social work to business -.42 ** -.13 * -.03 -.14 **

 Business Students

Ease of movement
Desirability of movement
Months to graduation
Marital status
Current earnings
Gender --
Careerism -.08 --
Knowledge .10 .21 ** --
Prof. advancement -.01 .05 .02 --

* p <.05. ** p <.01.

Table 2. Analysis of Variance of Social Work and Business Students:
Key Career Motivations Compared by Demographic, Current, and
Anticipated Career Status

 Ease of Desirability
 Movement of Movement

Measure F df F df

Social work/business 95.948 *** 1,337 144.024 *** 1,337
Marital status 2.428 1,337 .027 1,337
Age 1.304 36,302 1.032 36,302
Ethnicity 1.107 4,321 4.736 ** 4,321
Current earnings 1.535 ** 147,191 1.133 147,191
Anticipated future
 earnings 2.568 *** 72,261 1.219 72,261
Organizational tenure .988 89,133 .964 89,133
Hours per week 1.070 18,204 2.641 *** 18,204
Months until graduation 1.561 * 29,306 1.199 29,306


Measure F df

Social work/business 7.254 ** 1,384
Marital status 1.284 1,384
Age 1.189 37,348
Ethnicity .982 4,366
Current earnings 1.067 150,235
Anticipated future
 earnings .894 75,304
Organizational tenure .969 89,133
Hours per week 1.500 18,204
Months until graduation .744 29,353

 Desire for Professional
 Knowledge Advancement

 F df F df

Social work/business .244 1,384 5.606 * 1,337
Marital status .120 37,348 .021 1,337
Age 1.394 1,384 1.188 1,337
Gender .609 1,384 6.715 ** 1,337
Ethnicity 1.162 1,384 .311 4,321
Current earnings .904 150,235 1.006 147,191
Anticipated future
 earnings .714 75,304 1.028 72,261
Organizational tenure 1.284 89,133 1.110 89,133
Hours per week working 1.039 18,204 .851 18,204
Months until graduation .670 29,353 .69 29,306

* p<.05. ** p<.01. *** p <.001.

Table 3. Hierarchical Regression Analyses Relating the Dependent
Variable Desirability of Movement to Significant Control and
Independent Variables

 Model 1

 Social Work
 Students Business Students
 (N=165) (N=223)

 [beta] SE [beta] SE
Control variable
 Months to graduation .036 .006 -.121 * .006
 Age .298 ** .008 .101 .008
 Marital status -.090 .109 .000 .128
 Current earnings -.403 *** .000 -.426 *** .000
 Gender .111 .189 -.108 .118
[R.sup.2] .17 .192
Adjusted [R.sup.2] .13 .174
F for change in [R.sup.2] 4.39 * 10.199 ***

 Model 2
Control variable
 Months to graduation .036 .006 -.111 .005
 Age .230 * .009 .086 .008
 Marital status -.096 .111 -.064 .126
 Current earnings -.376 *** .000 -.388 *** .000
 Gender .121 .187 -.088 .117
Independent variable
 Careerist orientation .153 .123 .168 ** .102
 Knowledge .161 * .062 -.012 .059
 Prof. advancement -.052 .066 .123 * .067
[R.sup.2] .21 .238
Adjusted [R.sup.2] .25 .209
F for change in [R.sup.2] 3.535 * 8.218 ***

* p<.05. ** p<.01. *** p<.001.

Table 4. Hierarchical Regression Analyses Relating the Dependent
Variable Ease of Movement to Significant Control and Independent

 Model 1

 Work Students Business Students
 (N=165) (N=223)

 [beta] SE [beta] SE
Control variable
 Months to graduation -.158 .006 -.248 *** .005
 Age .105 .008 -.112 * .007
 Marital status .114 .128 -.112 * .007
 Current earnings -.032 .000 280.000 *** .000
 Gender -.077 .118 -.002 .105
[R.sup.2] .06 .126
Adjusted [R.sup.2] .01 .106
F for change in [R.sup.2] 1.334 6.176 ***

 Model 2
Control variable
 Months to graduation -.160 .005 -.249 *** .005
 Age .021 .008 -.160 .007
 Marital status -.110 .126 -.089 .115
 Current earnings -.036 .000 .231 * .000
 Gender -.075 .117 -.001 .106
Independent variable
 Careerist orientation .251 ** .102 -.121 .093
 Knowledge -.081 .059 .003 .053
 Prof. advancement -.226 * .067 .021 .061
[R.sup.2] .15 .142
Adjusted [R.sup.2] .05 .110
F for change in [R.sup.2] 2.294 * 4.379 ***

* p <.05. ** p <.01. *** p <.001.
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Author:Basham, Randall E.; Buchanan, F. Robert
Publication:Journal of Social Work Education
Article Type:Survey
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 22, 2009
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