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Attitudes of business students on the TARP program: a semantic differential analysis.

The TARP program, a federal response to the 2008 financial crisis, has generated much debate both inside and outside of academia. Since business ethics, corporate responsibility, and public policy form the basic educational framework of the undergraduate business school curriculum, we investigated attitudes toward the TARP in the Spring of 2009. The sample, comprised of 57 undergraduate-level business students from a mid-sized public university in the deep South, responded to a semantic differential measure that rated the concept $700 BILLION BAILOUT. The results, based on a One-sample t-test, indicated that respondents expressed rather negative attitudes (1.5 SD above the mean) toward the TARP. The findings were discussed in light of the academic exposure that business students receive with regard to econometric theory, fiscal policies, government rescue packages, investment strategies, banking crises, corporate ethics, and the national debt problem. The impact of these issues on the attitudes of the contemporary business student was noted in an expository framework.

The Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) is a U.S. federal government program, signed into law by President G.W. Bush, on October 3,2008 (Public Law 110-343). This legislation was initiated as a major response to the sub-prime mortgage, banking, and financial crisis that hit its peak during the early fall of 2008. The TARP's major function was to purchase or insure up to $700 billion of 'troubled assets' on residential and commercial property mortgages, backed largely by U.S and international banks, to promote financial market stability. In short, the TARP allows the U.S. Treasury to purchase illiquid difficult-to-value assets from banks and other financial institutions (Cocheo, 2008). One major aspect of the program is to encourage lending to the consumer, small business owner, and large companies; thus restoring the flow of capital that is vital to a healthy, robust economy. The TARP underwent several revisions with the change in party government in 2009, but the basic objectives of the program were left intact (Lawson, 2010).

However, during the seminal phases of the program, the public became aware of several controversial aspects of the TARP (Ayon, 2010; Harvey, 2008). For example, some financial institutions were using the TARP funds for business purposes not intended in the spirit of the program, such as using TARP funds for strategic acquisitions or takeover activity. Overall, government officials are aware of the difficulties in implementing the program and many regulators are suspect of the TARP bailout's effectiveness.

Business Students' Views on Public Policy

A review of the literature indicates that the specific attitudes of business students was a rather neglected area of research decades ago, although several studies investigated student attitudes toward political issues, environmental concerns, and social responsibility (e.g., Aldag & Jackson, 1977; Benton & Funkhouser, 1994; Prasad, 1982; Willoughby & Keon, 1985). However, recent research has shown that the contemporary undergraduate business student is rather cognizant of civic responsibilities of elected officials and public service workers (Piotrowski & Guyette, 2009). At the same time, business students hold staunch ethical views with regard to how organizations and corporate leaders conduct business activity (e.g., Guyette & Piotrowski, 2010; Malone, 2006; Piotrowski & Guyette, 2010). To obtain a sense of some of the areas that have attracted the interest of researchers, Table 1 presents several studies over the past decade that reported on business student attitudes. Based on this recent attention on the views and opinions of business students, it would be of interest to investigate the attitudes of today's business students on the TARP program which has been a key topic of discussion in the national media as well as in classroom discussion across U.S. business schools over the last 3 years.



The participants in this study were undergraduate students from the college of business at a regional southern university--tax, corporate tax, and business ethics students. A total of 57 students completed the survey form during class time. Participation was voluntary and the response sheet remained anonymous. The instructor covered the topic of the TARP prior to the administration of the survey form during regular, didactic class instruction.


Attitudes are subject to response bias, social desirability, and political persuasion. To overcome these concerns, it was decided to use a unique semi-projective measurement approach for assessing views toward the TARP program. A half century ago, Osgood, Suci, and Tannenbaum (1957) developed an ingenious and versatile method of measuring the connotative meaning of concepts, abstract ideas, and attitudes. The instrument is referred to as the "Semantic Differential' (SD) that combines an associational and scaling procedure. In essence, the SD is comprised of several bi-polar adjective scales, separated by a 7-point rating interval. The participant (rater) evaluates a concept (such as Education, War, Freedom, My Job, My Class Instructor) on each of the bipolar scales. This procedure is "semi-projective" since the rater is not quite sure how the SD functions or is scored; there is a diminished possibility of response bias and disingenuous responding. Furthermore, due to the brevity of the instrument, researchers can assess many concepts in a timely administration. Many factor analytic studies of different concepts, bipolar scales, and subject populations have reported empirical evidence on the validity, reliability, and utility of the SD technique (Snider & Osgood, 1969). The Semantic Differential technique has been used effectively in business research over the years (see Asebrook, 1978; Graeme, 2006; Holt & Moizer, 1990; Oliver, 1974). Moreover, methodological studies on the SD technique have supported and corroborated Osgood et al.'s earlier findings (Piotrowski, 1983).

The semantic differential measure used in this study (SD) was constructed based largely on the findings of prior SD research, particularly the seminal work of Osgood et al. (1957). The SD instrument was composed of 14 bipolar adjective scales that reflected the 3 dimensions proposed by Osgood et al. (Evaluation, Potency and Activity). Since the purpose of the current study was to assess attitudes and preference (i.e., whether respondents felt positively or negatively toward a concept), only the SD scales that measured the 'Evaluation" dimension were subjected to data analysis; specifically--Good-bad, Pleasant-Unpleasant, Fair-Unfair, Friendly-Unfriendly. Each scale was rated on a 7-point continuum format: the points were given numerical values, from 1 to 7, with a higher score indicative of a more negative evaluation. The scores from the 4 Evaluation scales were then summed to produce each respondent's Total Evaluation Score (TES). Since the TARP has been referred to my various labels over time, during the study proper we decided to conceptualize the TARP, for methodological purposes, as the $700 Billion Bailout.

Results and Discussion

The analysis required a comparison between the group means on the evaluation of the concept '$700 BILLION BAILOUT'. The group theoretical "Neutral" mean was a score of 16, based on the mid-point of the sample score range (4-28). The data were entered on an Excel spreadsheet program and subjected to SPSS analysis. A One-sample t-test was conducted utilizing group mean data. The overall aggregate mean score was 22.2 (N=57) for the summed Evaluation scales on the semantic differential. This value was significantly (p<.001) different from the "mid-point" score of 16 and 1.5 standard deviations above the mean. Thus, this sample of business students expressed rather negative views toward the TARP program. That is, as a group, these students felt that the TARP was held in low regard and held a negative connotation overall.

Why these negative views of the TARP from the perspective of today's business students? First, there is the common view that many government bailout initiatives short-change the taxpayer in that such 'loans' are frequently not repaid to the federal Treasury and thus increase the national debt. Moreover, several factors may reflect the fact that the current findings are based on an educated sample. For example, since most business students take coursework in economics and econometric theory, perhaps they consider the TARP as unsound fiscal policy. Related to education, most business students are required to complete courses in business ethics and, thus, are aware of irresponsible corporate behavior and unregulated aspects of innovative but risky investment strategies (e.g., Hedge funds) (Guyette & Piotrowski, 2010). Also, an analysis of the major beneficiaries of the program might be heavily skewed for large financial institutions and Wall Street to the neglect of small business, and individuals with personal mortgages. Moreover, business students understand the sensitivities of the credit system, confidence in the banking industry, and potential threats of insolvency in international markets. Finally, business students are cognizant of the reality that any artificial intervention by the government could be positive in the short run but have long-term onerous consequences; thus the TARP could be viewed as a vehicle that jeopardizes overall financial stability.

Future research should a) study the specific reasons that serve as the basis for business students' attitudes toward social, economic and public policies, and b) compare the views of students versus the general public on business and economic issues (see McCaffery & Baron, 2006). Finally, researchers should investigate the efficacy of the semantic differential as a methodological instrument in business and governmental-type research (Piotrowski & Guyette, 2010).


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Aldag, R., & Jackson, D. (1977). Assessment of attitudes toward social responsibilities. Journal of Business Administration, 8(2), 65-74.

Ayon, S. (2010). Oversight panel says TARP did not boost small business lending. The Secured Lender, 66(5), 12-13.

Benton, R., & Funkhouser, R. (1994). Environmental attitudes and knowledge: An international comparison among business students. Journal of Managerial Issues, 6(3), 366-382.

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Piotrowski, C., & Guyette, R.W. (2009). How potent do business students view the IRS and related business issues. Organization Development Journal, 27(3), 97-101.

Prasad, R. (1982). Certain social groups: A comparison of their attitude towards various socio-political issues. Journal of Psychological Researches, 26(3), 150-155.

Shannon, J. R., & Berl, R. (1997). Are we teaching ethics in marketing? A survey of students' attitudes and perceptions. Journal of Business Ethics, 16, 1059-1076.

Smith, P., & Oakley, E. (1997). Gender-related differences in ethical and social values of business students: Implications for management. Journal of Business Ethics, 16, 37-46.

Snider, J.G., & Osgood, C.E. (Eds.). (1969). Semantic Differential Technique. Chicago, IL: Aldine.

Tomkiewicz, J., & Bass, K. (2008). Attitudes of business students toward management generation cohorts. North American Journal of Psychology, 10(2), 435-444.

Vodanovich, S., & Piotrowski, C. (2008). Attitudes of business students toward online education. Psychology & Education: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 45(1), 39-40.

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Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Chris Piotrowski at

Chris Piotrowski, Research Consultant, University of West Florida. Roger Guyette, College of Business, University of West Florida.
Table 1
Recent Published Studies on Business Student Attitudes

Reference Topical Focus

Kilsheimer et al. (2011) Attitudes on interactive technology
Ng & Burke (2010) Attitudes toward business practices
Forrester & Tashchian (2010) Attitudes about academic group work
Kolodinsky et al. (2010) Attitudes on corporate social
Guyette & Piotrowski (2009) Attitudes on various business concepts
Vodanovich & Piotrowski Attitudes toward online instruction
Elias (2008) Attitudes toward 'practical' type
 of education
Tomkiewicz & Bass (2008) Attitudes on inter-generational work
Bradley et al. (2006) Attitudes on the role of business
Kirchler et al. (2003) Attitudes on tax evasion and avoidance
Kilbourne et al. (2002) Multinational views on the environment
Smith & Oakley (1997) Gender differences in social values
Shannon & Berl (1997) Marketing majors' views on
 ethics instruction
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Author:Piotrowski, Chris; Guyette, Roger W., Jr.
Publication:Journal of Instructional Psychology
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 1, 2011
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