January 9, 1995 in Nation/World

Freshmen Soured On Politics College Poll Finds Stress Up But Beer Drinking Down

Orange County Register
 

Want to bore a college freshman to death? Talk politics.

According to a national survey of freshman attitudes, students who started school last fall are less involved and less interested in politics than any other class in the survey’s 29-year history.

Something about the 1994 political campaigns seems to have soured an already embittered and indifferent younger generation.

The one-year drop in interest from the previous year’s already low levels was nothing short of “remarkable,” said survey director Alexander Astin, a professor at the University of California, Los Angeles.

The percentage of freshmen who said that “keeping up with political affairs” is an important goal dropped to 32 percent - down 10 percent from the year before and about half the 1966 level.

And only one in six freshmen discusses politics frequently.

The 237,700 college students who filled out a four-page multiple-choice questionnaire also reported record amounts of stress and an all-time high level of concern about their ability to pay ever-increasing college bills.

The survey found the number of students describing themselves as politically “middle-of-the-road” has increased along with indifference.

More than half the students now inhabit the middle, compared to 25 percent who call themselves liberal or far left, and 22 percent who call themselves conservative or far right.

This year’s freshmen also are feeling awfully put-upon.

Asked if they felt overwhelmed by everything they had to do, a record high 24 percent said they felt that way frequently. And a record high 19 percent said they had serious concerns about their ability to pay for their education.

Among other survey results:

The number of freshmen reporting that they drank beer sometime during the previous year reached an all-time low of 53 percent, down from 75 percent in 1981. But tobacco use was up among freshmen, reaching its highest point since 1979. One-eighth of freshmen said they frequently smoke cigarettes.

Leaning leftward on social issues, freshmen increasingly support homosexual rights and the legalization of marijuana. An all-time low 34 percent support laws prohibiting homosexual relations; 32 percent support legalizing pot.

Leaning rightward on crime and punishment issues, freshman support for abolishing capital punishment reached an all-time low: 20 percent, compared to 58 percent in 1971.

Student interest in medical careers reached an all-time high, with 9 percent saying they planned to get doctor of medicine degrees; interest in engineering plummeted to a 19-year low of 7 percent.

Grade inflation appeared to be continuing. A record 28 percent of freshmen reported “A” averages, compared to 12 percent in 1969.

Just over 43 percent of freshmen said they agreed with the statement: “If two people really like each other, it’s all right for them to have sex even if they’ve known each other for only a very short time.” That was 56 percent of the men - but only 32 percent of the women.

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