Education and Human Sciences, College of (CEHS)


Date of this Version

Spring 4-7-2009


A DISSERTATION Presented to the Faculty of The Graduate College at the University of Nebraska In Partial Fulfillment of Requirements Of the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy, Major: Educational Studies (Educational Leadership & Higher Education) Under the Supervision of Professor Ronald Joekel.
Lincoln, Nebraska: May, 2009
Copyright (c) 2009 Deidra G. Stephens.


Theorists and observers have speculated that Millennial Generation college students may progress through cognitive-structural models differently than previous generations. These models, such as Lawrence Kohlberg’s theory of moral development, require individuals to shift from accepting authoritarian views to making their own meaning of the world. Millennials are deferential to the role of parents in their lives, accepting authority, convention, and structure, and acquiescing to rules, order, and expectations. On the other hand, some have predicted that Millennials’ unique view of the world and their place within it may generate more advanced levels of cognitive development than previous generations.

This quantitative study was conducted to determine if there was a correlation between parental attachment and the moral judgment competence of college students in the context of their Millennial generation characteristics.

The population studied included 6,091 students enrolled in two campuses of a major university system in the northeastern United States. Responses were received from 1,272 students (20.88% response rate). Subjects’ level of perceived parental attachment was measured using the Parental Attachment Questionnaire (PAQ) and subjects’ percentage of demonstrated moral judgment competence was measured using the Moral Judgment Test (MJT). Other variables studied included gender, ethnicity, class standing, and age. Overall, no significant relationship was found between perceived parental attachment and moral judgment competence in the population, although the research did find significant differences by demographic characteristics. The correlation between moral judgment competency and parental fostering of autonomy was significant for non-Caucasians, sophomore students, and students aged 18-19. The correlation between moral judgment competency and total parental attachment, as well as between moral judgment competency and affective quality of attachment was also significant for sophomore students.

Results provided a quantitative illustration of the influence of parental attachment and demographic characteristics on moral judgment competence. This illustration offers theorists guidance on theory revision, gives higher education administrators direction on developing programs and services for students and parents to assist students in their moral development, and provides a foundation for future research.