College Freshmen Increasingly Political, Survey Shows

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A recent survey looking into the behaviors of college freshmen in 2015 has found an increasingly high interest in both political engagement and student activism — and suggests that these activities could see even more participation in the coming months.

The annual UCLA survey, called the CIRP Freshman Survey, identified the habits of 141,189 full-time, first-year students living across the United States.  Findings suggest that interest in political and civil engagement has seen its highest level since the survey began 50 years ago.  Close to one in ten incoming freshmen expect to participate in such activity including student protests while attending college, writes Carmen Chiuco for Phys.org.

Part of the Cooperative Institutional Research Program, the survey is conducted on an annual basis using a sampling of students from across the country by the Higher Education Research Institute at the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies.

In all, 8.5% of participants replied by answering that they have a “very good chance” of participating in student protests while in college.  This is the highest amount in the history of the survey and a 2.9 percentage point increase over the 2014 survey.  Black students were found to be most likely to hold such expectations, with 16% saying they are likely to participate in a protest while in college, a 5.5 percentage point increase from 2014.

The rise in interest corresponds with the increase in successful protests held by college students across the country over the last year.  Most notably, University of Missouri students forced the resignation of the system’s president in November 2015 after months of protests over the school’s lack of accountability for racial bias and discrimination occurring on campus.

“Student activism seems to be experiencing a revival, and last fall’s incoming freshman class appears more likely than any before it to take advantage of opportunities to participate in this part of the political process,” said Kevin Eagan, director of CIRP. “We observed substantial gains in students’ interest in political and community engagement across nearly every item on the survey related to these issues.”

Other findings include 39.8% of incoming freshmen reporting a desire to become community leaders, and 60% saying they would be interested in improving their understanding of other countries and cultures.  The results for both of these questions were the highest ever recorded.  In addition, 22.3% said they would like to influence the political structure and 41.2% hope to aid in the promotion of racial understanding, calling it an “essential” or “very important” personal goal, writes Courtney Kueppers for The Chronicle of Higher Education.

The survey also found 59.8% of participants say they believe they had a “very good chance” of voting in either a local, state, or federal election sometime during their college career.  This was an increase from 50.3% in the 2014 survey.

“If this broader commitment to community and political engagement manifests into action, particularly over the next year, college students have the potential to play a critical role in upcoming elections,” Eagan said.

Responses were taken from first-year, full-time students enrolled in one of 199 universities or colleges of various selectivity and types across the country.  In all, over 15 million students at 1,900 colleges and universities have participated in the survey since it began in 1966.  The survey is known to be the largest and longest-running survey of American college students.