Assessing Student Career Maturity 1
Assessing Student Career Maturity: Implications for School Counselors
Paul E. Barnes
University of Nebraska at Omaha
David J. Carter
University of Nebraska at Omaha
Please mail correspondence to:
6001 Dodge Street
Kayser Hall 421-G
Omaha, NE 68182
Assessing Student Career Maturity 2
This paper illustrates how assessing levels of student career maturity can help
counselors to examine the effectiveness of a school's career counseling program.
Specifically, the study described in this paper provided baseline data pertaining to student
career development prior to the implementation of a comprehensive school guidance
program. The researchers used the Career Maturity Inventory (1995) - CMI to examine
student career maturity by gender and grade level for students in Grades 9 and 12
(N=221) in one suburban school district. Results of the study are shared and implications
for collecting local data related to the school' counseling program is discussed.
Assessing Student Career Maturity 3
Assessing Student Career Maturity: Implications for School Counselors
One of the most fundamental challenges faced by our nation’s schools is to
prepare our youth for success beyond their secondary school experience. This task is
made exponentially more difficult when considering the diverse nature of students within
a given school population. A measure of success often used to evaluate educational
programs is the preparedness of secondary school graduates for the world of work.
Educators attempt to assist all students in this endeavor by offering numerous career-
focused activities. Career counselors in the schools may assess and teach aspects of
career interests, aptitudes, personality, knowledge of occupations, and other potentially
relevant attributes (Hood & Johnson, 1991). Although career preparation is the charge of
an entire educational program, the guidance and counseling staff are often perceived to
have primary responsibility for facilitating student career development. In fact,
counselors are called to foster growth in the area of career development as reflected by
the national standards of the American School Counselor Association (ASCA). The
ASCA standards identify three areas of focus for school counseling programs: academic,
personal and social, and career development (Campbell & Dahir, 1997).
Is the presence of a counselor in the school enough to positively impact student
growth in these areas? As far back as the mid-1960's individuals warned that school
counselors should not take for granted their importance in the education program (Deck
& Cecil, 1990). When decisions are made related to program prioritization, often
counselors who cannot demonstrate their effectiveness or utility are viewed as
expendable (Kruse, 2002; National School Board Association, 1999). Counselors today
however, know that there is empirical evidence that counseling interventions do have a
Assessing Student Career Maturity 4
positive and measurable impact on students' educational and personal development (e.g.,
ASCA, 2002; Borders & Drury, 1992). Guidance programs that have demonstrated their
effectiveness have experienced growth through focusing on results-based programs
(Gysbers and Henderson, 1997).
Although national and regional data related to the effectiveness of counseling
programs is currently available, the most valuable data for counselors and their
administration is local data. Despite its importance, local data is less often available as
many counselors have historically elected not to carry out research. Among the factors
identified by Deck and Cecil (1990) that influence counselors not to carry out research
were: lack of training, lack of time, institutional constraints, counselor fear of evaluation
and counselor perception that carrying out research was not within their role. When
counselors fail to participate in local research the guidance program becomes vulnerable
because it has no means of demonstrating how students are different because of
The following study is offered as an illustration of how one district participated in
local research that allowed for the evaluation of their career development program.
Specifically the study assessed levels of student career development by grade level and
gender for two schools within a single district, prior to the implementation of a
comprehensive and competency-based guidance (CCBG) program. CCBG programs
provide an articulated curriculum with developmentally appropriate guidance activities
intended to foster specific student competencies. To demonstrate their effectiveness
counselors have responded in many cases by implementing CCBG related curriculums to
direct the activity of their school counseling programs (Gysbers & Henderson, 1997; Sink
Assessing Student Career Maturity 5
& MacDonald, 1998). The proliferation of this approach not only provides consistent
and proactive experiences for students, but it also offers counselors a means of
demonstrating their importance within an overall education program. Data from this and
similarly designed studies allow school counselors to assess the developmental
appropriateness of specific career-related guidance lessons for given student populations.
Additionally, the baseline data could be used for comparative purposes once a
comprehensive guidance program has been fully implemented.
Implemented CCBG programs often involve the inclusion of student experiences
and competencies in the domains identified in the ASCA standards: academic,
personal/social, and career. This study focused on assessing the levels of student
development in the domain of career for several reasons. First, parents, students and
counselors have indicated that vocational/career counseling are among the most
important tasks school guidance programs offer. For example, Helms and Ibrahim (1985)
indicated that parents and counselors generally feel that career counseling services are
more important than personal/social or academic counseling. Other research has
emphasized the perceived importance that students have placed on career guidance
activities in school (Hiebert, Kemeny & Kurchak, 1998; Pyne, Bernes, Magnusson &
Poulsen, 2002). Additionally, the genesis of school counseling and career counseling
share the much of the same history and remain intertwined today. Lastly, the career
readiness of students remains a highly visible aspect of school guidance programs. The
importance of career counseling has been made evident by familiar calls for educational
reform that cite career guidance as an area of critical significance (e.g., O’Connor &
Matczak, 1999). Parents and community leaders want to know, “Have the schools
Assessing Student Career Maturity 6
prepared our children to be productive members of the community?” Such questions of
accountability serve to support Pyne, Bernes, Magnusson, and Poulson's (2002)
contention that, career services provided by schools should be assessed and evaluated to
determine how effective they are.
One way school counselors can assess their program is to determine student levels
of career development by examining "career maturity". Donald Super (1955) used the
term "vocational maturity" to denote "the degree of development or the place reached on
the continuum of vocational development from exploration to decline" (p. 153). With
consideration of Super's (1957) work, Herring, (1998, p.21) suggested that "career
maturity" is “the repertoire of behaviors necessary to identifying, choosing, planning, and
executing career goals available to a specific individual as compared with those
possessed by an appropriate peer group; being at an average level in career development
for one’s age.” Operationally, "career maturity" was defined in this study as the total
score on the Career Maturity Inventory - CMI (Crites & Savickas, 1995).
The construct of "career maturity" has been used frequently in research to identify
how individuals are developmentally different when considering diverse characteristics
or educational programs in which participants were involved (e.g., Amatea, Clark &
Cross, 1984; Kelly, 1992; McNair & Brown, 1983; Wilson, 1987). In this study, the
measure of career maturity offered educators a view of their student population that
illuminated critical aspects of development. Although the data collected is specific to
two participating schools, the example that this study establishes has value for school
counselors everywhere as it demonstrates the usefulness of empirical data in the
Assessing Student Career Maturity 7
implementation and subsequent evaluation of CCBG programs. For example, "career
maturity" as identified by Crites and Savickas (1995) represents student performance
related to career decision-making processes, self-image, goal selection, knowledge of
occupations, and planning and problem solving skills. An understanding of student
scores for this construct has implications for school counselors and students as they
consider curricula selection, post-secondary planning, and the timeliness of various
career-related activities (Super & Overstreet, 1960).
When measured by standardized assessments such as the CMI, it is expected that
older students will demonstrate higher levels of career maturity than younger students
(Crites, 1995). The assumption that students possess increased levels of career maturity
as they age further demonstrates the notion that the construct is developmental (e.g.,
Thompson, Lindeman, Super, Jordaan, & Myers, 1981). For example, the study
described here examined levels of student career maturity in grades 9 and 12. Given this
assumption counselors would expect that students in Grade 12 would demonstrate
statistically higher levels of career attitude and competence as measured by the CMI than
students in Grade 9. The degree of statistical difference between grade level scores or the
absence of a statistical difference in the CMI scores allows counselors and educators to
consider needs for programmatic change.
Two hypotheses were used to examine the effectiveness of the career
1. There is a significant difference in the level of career maturity as measured by the
Career Maturity Inventory between students in the ninth and twelfth grade.
Assessing Student Career Maturity 8
2. There a significant main effect or interaction effect for gender or grade level of
students on the total score on the Career Maturity Inventory.
The participants (N=221) for the study were comprised of 110 students in Grade
9 and 111 students in Grade 12 who were enrolled at one of two participating schools in
the Midwest. Each school provided participants from Grades 9 and 12 who represented
both genders. Participating students from two schools within the same suburban school
district included 49 males and 61 females in Grade 9, and 55 males and 54 females in
Grade 12. Two students did not identify gender.
Student participants were drawn from social studies courses required for all
students in Grade 9 and Grade 12. Students were part of intact classroom groups since
random sampling procedures would have been disruptive to the typical school day. Three
classes of students in Grade 9 and three of Grade 12 were selected at each site. A total of
315 students were invited to participate in the study. Of this group, 221 returned the
appropriate permission forms and completed the 50-item instrument and student
questionnaire. The total rate of participation was 70.2%.
The study used the Career Maturity Inventory (CMI) by Crites and Savickas
(1995). The 1995 version of the CMI is comprised of two sections: the Attitudes Scale
and the Competence Test. The combination of these two scales is identified as the CMI's
Total Score. Authors of the CMI indicated that it is appropriate to use the instrument for
studying career development, screening for career immaturity, evaluating career
Assessing Student Career Maturity 9
education, assessing guidance needs, and testing in career counseling (Healey, 1994; as
cited in Crites, 1995). The Attitude Scale and the Competence Test each consists of 25
Data was analyzed by examining the differences in means between the students
by grade level and gender. A two-factor statistical analysis of variance (ANOVA) was
conducted to determine if significant differences were present when comparing the scores
of each group within the design. The alpha level of .05 was used to determine
The results of the study are limited by the procedures associated with
convenience sampling of existing student groups. Additionally, all participants were
selected from one of two participating schools in the Midwest thus limiting generalization
of the resulting data.
Table 1 shows that students in Grade 12 had numerically higher mean scores than
students in Grade 9 on each scale of the CMI. This result supported the theoretical
expectation that students in Grade 12 would have higher scores than students in Grade 9
on each aspect of the career maturity measure. Despite this initial observation a
statistical analysis of these means revealed both anticipated and unanticipated results.
The results of the ANOVA as illustrated on Table 2 showed a statistically
significant difference between students in the ninth and twelfth grade on both the Total
Score and Competence Test of the CMI. Using an alpha level of .05, the main effect for
grade level on the three scales was as follows: Total Score F(1, 215 ) = 13.18, p < .001;
Assessing Student Career Maturity 10
Means for CMI Attitude Scale, Competence Test, and Total Score by Grade
Grade n Attitude Competence Total CMI
Grade 9 110 M 17.71 17.35 35.06
sd 2.72 2.82 4.27
Grade 12 111 M 18.26 18.79 37.05
sd 2.47 2.59 3.94
Attitude = Attitude Scale of the Career Maturity Inventory (25 items)
Competence = Competence Test of the Career Maturity Inventory (25 items)
Total CMI = Total score of CMI (Sum of Attitude and Competence Tests (50 items)
Attitude Scale F(1, 215) = 2.52, p = .114; and Competence Test F(1, 215) = 15.84,
p < .001. A significant main effect was not found when considering grade level effect on
the Attitude Scale.
Although females scored numerically higher than males for each scale (Table
3), there was no statistically significant difference between mean scores for gender on the
Total Score, Attitude Scale, and Competence Test of the CMI. The results of the
ANOVA were: Attitude Scale F (1, 215) = .60, p = .441; Competence Test F(1, 215) =
1.93, p = .167; and Total Score F(1,215 ) = 1.97, p = .162 (Table 2).
Gender did not interact with grade level to explain a significant amount of the
variability of Total Scores for the CMI (p = .484). Additionally, gender did not account
for a significant amount of the variability in Total Score for the CMI (p = .162).
Assessing Student Career Maturity 11
ANOVA for CMI Total Score, Attitude Scale, and Competence Test
by Grade Level and Gender
Source df MS F p
Total Score 1 223.67 13.18 .000***
Attitude 1 17.23 2.52 .114
Competence 1 116.74 15.84 .000***
Total Score 1 33.46 1.97 .162
Attitude 1 4.06 .60 .441
Competence 1 14.20 1.93 .167
Grade Level x
Total Score 1 8.33 .491 .484
Attitude 1 .034 .005 .944
Competence 1 7.301 .990 .321
Error 215 16.97
* p < .05. ** p < .01. *** p < .001.
Assessing Student Career Maturity 12
Means for CMI Attitude Scale, Competence Test, and Total Score by Gender
Gender n Attitude Competence Total CMI
Male 104 M 17.86 17.85 35.70
sd 2.61 2.82 4.25
Female 115 M 18.10 18.27 36.37
sd 2.62 2.80 4.21
Table 4 shows that student participants at these two schools scored significantly
higher than the norm group means for their grade level. The computer generated norm
means were offered by the instruments authors at the time of this study.
Z Test comparisons between Sample Means and Norm Means
from the Career Maturity Inventory
Sample Group Norm Group Z-Score
Grade 9 n M M sd
Attitudes 110 17.71 13.01 5.47 9.008***
Competence 110 17.35 13.01 5.47 8.318***
Attitudes 111 18.26 16.01 5.47 4.332***
Competence 111 18.79 16.01 5.47 5.353***
* p < .05. ** p < .01. *** p < .001.
Assessing Student Career Maturity 13
This study offered a view of how specific career-related data can help counselors
assess the effectiveness of their career guidance program. For example, it was expected
that the data would further support the assumption that older students score higher on all
measures of career maturity than their younger counterparts. In general, the data
confirmed this assumption with one significant exception. The difference in career-
related attitudes between students in Grade 9 and Grade 12 for the sample population was
not statistically significant. This finding raised several questions that are important for
school counselors at participating schools and for all counselors considering the value of
empirical data for evaluating a comprehensive and developmental guidance program.
Specifically, data showed that students in Grade 9 had a similar level or type of career
attitude as their peers in Grade 12. School counselors need to be aware of such
differences in their local student populations and attempt to understand why such
similarities exist. Without research this unexpected finding would have likely gone
unnoticed. Perhaps the ninth grade students were performing at an elevated level or
perhaps the twelfth grade students were performing poorly? Of these possibilities, one
scenario infers a weakness in the career education program while the other may infer
success in working with the younger students. Although both groups performed above
the expected mean, what remained unclear is why students in Grade 9 scored relatively
higher above the mean than their peers in Grade 12. In this case, the findings justify
further examination of the career education program and curriculum that students in
Grade 9 had experienced.
Assessing Student Career Maturity 14
As counselors consider the use of the CMI or other instruments to assess their
programs effectiveness they should be mindful that data interpretation could be
subjective. For example, the data from this study led to yet another plausible
explanation from one of the CMI's authors. Crites (1995) confirmed that the items on
both scales of the CMI were selected to differentiate among grade levels. The results of
this study which found no statistically significant difference between students in Grade 9
and Grade 12 on the Attitude Scale were explained as "anomalies" (J. O. Crites, personal
communication, February 24, 2000). That is, a potential exists that study participants
were not typical in relation to the score expectations identified in the norm tables. If true,
the phenomenon gives cause for further study of this student group or provides reason to
differentiate the curriculum to their specific needs.
This study provides a brief illustration of how school counselors can begin to
establish empirical data to support the activities of their guidance program by using
standardized instruments. Results for individual schools provide a baseline measure of
student development that can be used to identify student trends and to respond to
questions of accountability. Periodic or follow-up studies that measure change in student
competencies can also be used as a program evaluation tool to direct counselors toward
areas of needed change.
School counselors should endorse all opportunities to collect data that represent
various aspects of student development related to academics, personal and social qualities
and career readiness. This example illustrated how counselors could assess how their
students are developing with regard to career. Can counselors without such data
appropriately design relevant career guidance activities? As scrutiny on public education
Assessing Student Career Maturity 15
increases, guidance personnel are likely to be asked more frequently to demonstrate their
value in the school. Johnson and Johnson (1982) posed the question “How are students
different because of counselors?” The adoption of measurable student competencies as
part of a guidance curriculum will assist counselors in answering this question only when
student performance is systematically evaluated. That is, too many studies tend to assess
the usage of counselor time or perceptions held by various stakeholders related to the
guidance program. Although program descriptions are interesting, the most critical type
of data relates to how students are different because they've experienced the school
guidance and counseling program.
Finally, this study illustrates how important it is that school counselors recognize
the developmentally different needs of students in all grade levels. As with this study,
normative expectations of development did not represent the local population of students.
Unfounded expectations of student competence are not justification for implementing any
guidance activity or a specific guidance-related program. CCBG programs must be
founded in empirical data and should have the capacity to differentiate activities for the
unique demands of specific student populations.
As schools create and implement developmentally appropriate guidance curricula,
they should also identify manageable aspects of their program to assess and revise. If
local baseline data related to development does not exist, schools may wish to begin
teaching guidance skills targeted at levels identified by national standards and later refine
the program as local data is collected about their student population. A systematic
approach to program evaluation offers a degree of assurance that the guidance program
Assessing Student Career Maturity 16
will provide students with meaningful and developmentally challenging activities while
providing evidence of program value.
Assessing Student Career Maturity 17
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