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The Motivational Relevance of Educational Plans: Questioning the Conventional Wisdom

Karl L. Alexander and Martha A. Cook
Social Psychology Quarterly
Vol. 42, No. 3 (Sep., 1979), pp. 202-213
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3033763
Page Count: 12
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The Motivational Relevance of Educational Plans: Questioning the Conventional Wisdom
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Abstract

Employing two complementary data sets, the National Longitudinal Study of the High School Class of 1972 and the Study of Academic Prediction and Growth, we question the conventional interpretation of educational plans as motives, and thereby as determinants of educational attainment. We find that when questioned about their educational plans: (1) perhaps as many as 20% of youth supply extemporaneous responses; (2) another 20% report goals of quite recent formulation; and (3) the remainder report long-term commitments (at least 2-5 years). The last are so longstanding as to make suspect the causal ordering employed in most models of adolescent attainment. That is, such plans are not properly considered as the products of high school experiences. We also document that senior year measures of educational goals often are quite contaminated by prior knowledge of one's actual prospects for college. Finally, our analyses make suspect the assumptions, first that educational plans are homogeneous in their information across students and assessments and second, that they reflect exclusively, or even primarily, underlying motivation or achievement orientation. Without these assumptions, it is difficult to sustain the customary interpretation of plans "influences."

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