2003-04 Hunt Grant Research Report
Alumni of Psi Chi: Does "Membership Have Its Advantage" on Future Education/Employment?
Joseph R. Ferrari, PhD, DePaul University (IL)
Drew C. Appleby, PhD, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis
The goal of collegiate honor societies is to reward previous accomplishments and promote future success. Membership in these societies is perceived as a source of status in that members need to meet standards for admission that are not met by all students. Further, in associating with other highly successful and involved students, honor society members have an outlet for forming networking relationships that may be useful for further education or once they are in the work world. Across the country, college students are joining various organizations designed to bring together the "best and brightest" of our future leaders. Is it the case that these individuals become highly successful contributors to their organizations and society, or is their membership in an honor society nothing more than a line on a resume?
A review of honor society literature revealed that previous work has focused on characteristics of members (Baker, Beer, & Beer, 1991), academic outcomes (Baron, 2000), or perceptions of membership (Magrath & Sleigh, 2003). Magrath and Sleigh (2003) surveyed 64 honor society members and non-members from a moderate size, suburban university and found that both samples perceived membership positively and that members were satisfied with membership experiences. Moriarty and Ferrari (2003) reported that among 108 honor society alumni members from a single small, urban liberal arts college, that most respondents went on to pursue higher education (64.5%) and then worked either in business (34.9%) or educational settings (28.2%). In addition, most respondents (76%) reported that honor society membership had a positive impact on their lives.
The oldest and most widely known scholastic honor society in the United States is Psi Chi, the honor society for psychology founded in 1929 (Hogan & Sexton, 1993). Miller (2004) reported that as of June 2003, there were 1,013 chapters of Psi Chi (including at least one Canadian chapter) with 445,361 members inducted since the organizations conception. Psi Chi serves members by encouraging and maintaining excellence in the scholarship for individuals associated with psychology while advancing the science of psychology. In the academic 2002-03 year alone, over 22,000 new members were inducted.
Broderick, Fellows, and Fallahi (2004) reported that among 20 current members anonymously surveyed from two local Psi Chi chapters, respondents (mostly Caucasian women majoring in psychology who reported a cumulative G.P.A. of 3.45) felt that membership was personally beneficial to their academic success, even though most participants (75%) were not actively engaged in any psychology-related employment. Fellows, Broderick, and Fallahi (2004) surveyed 16 alumni members of Psi Chi from their single institution. Respondents (mostly Caucasian women who reported a degree in psychology and a cumulative G.P.A. of 3.6) indicated that they perceived membership as beneficial to achieving their post-graduation goals, with 56% stating that they were actively involved in a psychology-related field.
Despite these two surveys of Psi Chi members and alumni, no published research has examined the long-term impact of membership. The present study surveyed national random samples of 4,000 college and university graduates who completed undergraduate degrees either recently (Class of 2003) or in the recent past (Class of 2000). Moreover, these alumni were all members of Psi Chi as undergraduates. Because this is the first systematic, national-based survey of random samples of Psi Chi alumni, we did not have a prior expectations for the results. However, we included two samples of Psi Chi alumni from different graduation classes in order to assess, over time, whether members were more likely to attend graduate school or obtain employment. We reasoned that recent graduates (e.g., 2003 graduates) might delay their pursuit of graduate school, and that it might take alumni some time after graduation to enter graduate school (hence, the inclusion of members from the Class of 2000 as participants).
Survey Participants, Instrument, and Procedure
We obtained a random list of 2,000 Psi Chi inductees' names and addresses from the years 2000 and 2003, for a total of 4,000 alumni. With the Class of 2000, there were addresses for 1,628 women and 372 men, and with the Class of 2003 there were addresses from 1,625 women and 375 men. Each alumna/us from our population was sent, by bulk mailing, a cover sheet explaining the purpose of this survey study, a brief two-sided survey, and a postage-paid return addressed envelope. The survey contained several sections, including demographic items (e.g., age, sex, race, year of graduation, undergraduate degree, major, and cumulative GPA,), undergraduate research experiences (e.g., conducting a senior thesis, original research, presentation/publication of research), and characteristics of the undergraduate institution (e.g., type of institution, religious affiliation, school location). We also asked respondents to disclose whether they were actively pursuing a graduate degree (i.e., status, major, institution characteristics) or working on the post-bachelor level.
We mailed these surveys in January 2004 to alumni representing each of the six U.S. geographic regions for chapters identified by Psi Chi. Respondents were asked to complete the survey and return it at their earliest convenience. It should be noted that very few mailings were returned to us for incorrect addresses (perhaps, because we used bulking mailing which does not include the costs for supplying correct addresses), reducing our potential pool of participants to 1,997 alumni from the Class of 2000 and 1,999 from the Class of 2003.
It took participants approximately 20-25 minutes to complete the survey. Over a 3-month period, we received 580 completed surveys (190 from the Year 2000 and 390 from the Year 2003), representing a compliance return rate of 14.5% of the mailed population.
Results: The Class of 2000 vs. the Class of 2003
We conducted chi square analyses on these categorical data setting the probability levels to p < .01 to control for Type 1 errors. Tables 1-4 present the percentage of respondents (or mean score) from 2000 and 2003 across each item to our Psi Chi alumni survey. We received more replies from 2003 alumni, perhaps because their address databank was more accurate and/or membership in Psi Chi was more "fresh" for these participants. Nevertheless, we found no significant differences on demographic items between these two samples of Psi Chi alumni.
Table 1 indicates that most respondents were from the Eastern regions of Psi Chi. As one might expect, most respondents were women (86%) whose racial self-identity was Caucasian (82%). Of course, the respondents from 2003 were younger than the respondents from 2000. Nevertheless, across years most respondents graduated with a BA degree (73%), typically in psychology (73%), earning a "B+" cumulative GPA index (M = 3.6). Respondents had not been members of Psi Beta, the National Honor Society in Psychology for junior/ community colleges (< 1.5%), nor an officer in their local Psi Chi chapter (< 23%). Also, most respondents (62%) conducted non-honor's thesis research and did not present that work at a professional psychology conference (< 25%), nor did they publish their research in professional journals (< 7%). Also, many respondents did not graduate with any academic honor (32%).
In terms of undergraduate institutional characteristics for Psi Chi alumni, Table 2 indicates that most respondents graduated from public institutions (53%) that were not faith-based (72%) and were located in either urban (35%) or suburban (39%) settings. Most respondents (76%) graduated from a college, as opposed to a university, and reported an average of just over 16 full-time and six part-time faculty in their psychology department.
We also asked these alumni whether they were attending graduate school and to provide information on their educational experience and setting. Table 3 suggests that many respondents (43%) were full-time graduate students, earning a masters degree (47%) or some other graduate degree other than a doctorate in psychology (33%), usually from a public institution (60%) that was not faith-based (71%) and located in an urban setting (60%). In addition, we asked these alumni to discuss their present employment status and experiences. Table 4 indicates that most respondents (58%) stated they were employed full-time. Moreover, there was considerable diversity in the employment setting among respondents, although few alumni responded that they were either self-employed or working for the military or the U. S. government. Finally, just over a quarter of the alumni (26%) reported they were now living with their parents and many (71%) reported living on their own.
Conclusions and Implications From Our National Survey
So, what may be concluded about the undergraduate and postgraduate characteristics of the Psi Chi inductees who responded to our survey? It appeared that most alumni were female Caucasians who earned a BA in psychology with about a B+ GPA. This profile by sex and race for majors was similar to what has been reported as the current "typical" psychology major. Also, the fact that most of the respondents were women (> 80%) matched our population of alumni from both classes, which contained approximately 80% women compared to men. Our respondents also graduated with honors from a non-faith-based, public urban or suburban college whose psychology department was composed of approximately 16 full-time and six part-time faculty members. While in undergraduate school, the majority of our respondents conducted a research project, but they neither presented it at a conference nor published it in a journal. The majority had not been officers in their Psi Chi chapter.
It appeared that a healthy percentage of recent Psi Chi inductees were attending graduate school full-time and that the majority of these were pursuing a master's degree or some other graduate degree (other than a doctorate in psychology) from a public, non-faith-based, urban institution. Almost all of the remainder of our sample reported that they were employed full-time in a wide variety of occupations, and most of them indicated that they were living on their own, although over a quarter of them have chosen to live with their parents.
One of the most interesting of our findings appeared to be the very high percentage of alumni who reported they were full-time graduate students. Our sample of Psi Chi inductees attended graduate school at a much higher rate (43%) than the national average of 27% rate reported by the National Science Foundation in its 2001 report on science and engineering graduates. In fact, it was reported recently that of the 482,118 masters level graduate students in 2001-2002, only 3.1% (14,888) were psychology majors (National Center for Education Statistics, 2004). Our results suggested one factor that may be involved was that Psi Chi alumni may be a majority of those masters in psychology graduate students. Clearly, more research on this topic seemed warranted.
Also, it is interesting that our respondents were now attending masters, compared to doctoral programs, in graduate school. While we in no way imply that masters programs are "less valuable" than doctoral programs, it is interesting to ask "why a masters?" The explanation may include a variety of reasons, such as, but not limited to:
- alumni believed they did not have the academic credentials to succeed in a doctoral program,
- they applied to a doctoral program but were not accepted,
- they were not interested in further study in the field of psychology beyond a masters,
- their faculty advisors did not mentor their application progress,
- and/or the fact that there are more masters than doctoral degree programs available.
We believe future research needs to address this issue and examine the reasons for Psi Chi alumni entering masters compared to doctoral level graduate programs.
Another interesting result from our national survey was that so many respondents graduated without an overall scholastic honor based on their cumulative GPA. (i.e., without at least a cum laude recognition). This result replicated across both samples of respondents (> 32% per sample reported no honor degree at graduation). It is unclear why this result occurred, but it suggests that perhaps Psi Chi members may need to consider their overall grade index in courses outside of psychology. We suggest that faculty and staff advisors monitor the academic success of Psi Chi members outside the discipline of psychology.
In short, there was much to celebrate from the impact of Psi Chi membership. The present survey suggested that there is consistency in who graduates from college or university as a member, and that their subsequent life paths were very similar. We recognized that the very low return rate may have included a biased sample. It is possible, however, that our return rate was actually higher than we realize because there may have been a number of incorrect addresses among our mailing that were not identified to us by the postal system given our use of a bulk mailing, thereby lowering our initial population of potential participants. Still, this national survey supported the view that Psi Chi membership is worthwhile and influential in the lives of students.
Baker, K., Beer, J., & Beer, J. (1991). Self-esteem, alcoholism, sensation seeking, GPA, and differential aptitude test scores of high school students in an honor society. Psychological Reports, 69, 1147-1150.
Baron, L. J. (2000). Successful school outcomes in female members of the national honor society at a public, urban high school. Dissertation Abstracts International, 61(3-A), 876.
Broderick, S. E., Fellows, R., & Fallahi, C. R. (2004, March). What motivates the typical student to join Psi Chi? Poster presented at the annual meeting of the Eastern Psychological Association, Washington, DC.
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Hogan, J. D., & Sexton, V. S. (1993). Psi Chi, the national honor society in psychology. In J. L. Peters & M. Wertheimer (Eds.) No small part: A history of regional organizations in American psychology (pp. 189-205). Washington D.C.: American Psychological Association.
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Miller, P. J. (2004, Fall). Annual report of the interim executive officer. Eye on Psi Chi, 9(1), 5-6
Moriarty, M., & Ferrari, J. R. (2003, February). Honor society membership: Relationship with future success among the "best and brightest." Poster presented at the annual meeting of the Midwestern Institution of Students and Teachers of Psychology, Glen Ellyn, IL.
National Science Foundation. (2001). Primary education and employment status, and median salary of 1999 and 2001 science and engineering bachelor's degree recipients. Retrieved July 22, 2004, from http://nsf.gov/sbe/srs/nsf04302/pdf/tabs1a.pdf
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Joseph (Joe) R. Ferrari, PhD, is a professor of psychology at DePaul University, Chicago, IL. Dr. Ferrari is a fellow in APS, APA, SCRA (for community psychologists), and member of Division 2/APA, Society for Teaching of Psychology. He has been teaching undergraduate psychology classes since 1980 to students at two and four year, public and private colleges and universities and he still enjoys Intro. Psychology. He founded a chapter of Psi Beta at Mohawk Valley Community College, Utica, NY, and was faculty advisor of Psi Chi at DePaul from 1998 to 2004, receiving its "Distinguished Service" award in 1996 and 2004.
Drew C. Appleby, PhD, received his BA in psychology from Simpson College in 1969 and his PhD in experimental psychology from Iowa State University in 1972. He currently serves as director of undergraduate studies at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. He has numerous publications in professional journals, and has made over 250 presentations on topics related to teaching and learning before a variety of both professional and nonprofessional audiences. His most recently published book is The Savvy Psychology Major (2003, Kendall/Hunt).
Dr. Appleby is a fellow of both Division1 (General Psychology) and Division 2 (Teaching of Psychology) of APA. He received Division 2's Outstanding Psychology Teacher Award in a Four-Year College or University in 1993, the Marian College Teaching Excellence Award in 1993, the IUPUI Chancellor's Award for Excellence in Teaching in 2003, and was chosen by APA to present its G. Stanley Hall Teaching Lecture in 1998. He was recognized for his advising skills by the National Academic Advising Association when he received the Outstanding Adviser Award of its Great Lakes Region in 1988 and for his mentoring skills by being the recipient of IUPUI's Psi Chi Mentor of the Year Award in 2000. He created Division 2's Project Syllabus and currently serves as the director of Division 2's Mentoring Service.
Winter 2005 issue of Eye on Psi Chi (Vol. 9, No. 2, pp. 34-37), published by Psi Chi, The National Honor Society in Psychology (Chattanooga, TN). Copyright, 2005, Psi Chi, The National Honor Society in Psychology. All rights reserved.