Every year, students coming to college campuses all over the nation as freshmen are asked to fill out the Freshman Survey, compiled by the Cooperative Institutional Research Program, to compare the incoming class to those who came before. The results of the 2011 edition of the survey were just released by the Higher Education Research Institute at the University of California – Los Angeles, and they show some marked developments in the attitudes of young adults.
The findings show that this crop of freshmen differs from those who took the survey in previous years in a number of ways. Among them is the measure of their political leanings, as students who began college in the fall of 2011 were the most Liberal in recent memory. This was indicated by their growing support for same sex marriage (71%,) legalized abortion (60%,) and support for legalization of marijuana (50%.)
The survey also showed that a smaller number of students in 2011 supported barring children of illegal immigrants from public education, and a higher number believed that those who come from traditionally underrepresented backgrounds should enjoy preferential treatment in college admissions.
In 2011 85.9% of incoming students report that entering college “to be able to get a better job” is “very important” in their decision-making. It continues as the number one reason to attend college, but until 2006, before the current recession, “To learn more about things that interest me” held the top position. “To get training for a specific career” remains steady as the third most important reason to attend college.
However, the views on the purpose of the college weren’t uniform among all majors. Among those who planned to major in humanities, being able to compete for a better job ranked only 4th in the list of reasons for enrolling in college. Slightly more than 73% thought that landing better employment was “very important” to them. Students contemplating majoring in STEM disciplines, on the other hand, considered it the most important reason for attending college, with about 88% ranking it as such.
The 2011 survey also showed changes in how students are coping with the growing cost of education. Fewer reported receiving scholarships to help them cover their college tuition, and as a result, the amount of debt they anticipated carrying over the course of their college career was on the upswing.
In 2011, 11.9% of students report major concerns about financing their education (compared to 11.1% in 2010) and 55.5% report some concerns (54.5% in 2010). Major concerns, however, continue to be most prevalent among students entering private historically black colleges and universities, with 22.1%—roughly one in five—not sure whether they can afford to complete college.