Who Are the New Students and What Do They Need?

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With the new academic year well underway, The Chronicle of Higher Education recently published its annual “almanac” providing analyses of various aspects of colleges and universities in the United States. Typically, individual colleges review these data in light of their own college profile. I found the summary of freshmen at four year colleges most interesting.

For example, there is a real point of tension between financial resources and degree aspirations. Over 75% of the incoming freshmen self-report that they plan to earn a Master’s Degree (43%) or higher (35%). Understanding the increased competitiveness in the global economy and the rising demands for advanced skills and knowledge, these degree aspirations are both realistic and laudable

In fact, just over 72% of these new students say that “the chief benefit of a college education is that it increases one’s earning power,” and almost 86% say that “getting a better job” is also very important. As a proponent of the inherent value of a liberal education to the overall quality of life and society, I find some solace that among the list of important reasons for attending college, “learning more about things of interest” (82.9%) and “become a more cultured person” (50.3%) were also among the top seven reasons identified.

However, almost half of the freshmen report their family incomes to be less than $75,000. With the rising cost of higher education at both public and private institutions and the constant threat to federal and state financial aid programs, affordability will become an even greater issue and clearly impact the opportunities for graduates to pursue necessary and desired advanced degrees.

These analyses typically reveal a more balanced picture of the political views of students than the public perception. As in past years, most freshmen identify themselves as “middle of the road” (47.4%). Just over 30% self-identify as “liberal” or “far left.” Just over 22% say that they are “conservative” or “far right.”

It is less surprising that these young people are more socially liberal. Over 60% believe abortion should be legal and almost half believe that marijuana should be legal. In fact, a majority of freshmen support the right of same-sex couples to adopt, the need for a national health care program for all, and the importance of addressing global warming. Only 30% believe that spending on the military should be increased.

Regarding religious preference, the largest group self-identify as Roman Catholic (26%). The second largest group says that their religious preference is “none” (24.5%). Remember, these are all freshmen in all types of four-year colleges and universities. When combined, various Protestant denominations account for just over 40% of the freshmen.

While freshmen report that over half of their parents hold a college degree or higher (Mother – 56.8%; Father – 54.2%), almost 20% identify themselves as first generation college students. This is one of the statistical areas where a college like Anna Maria differs from the national profile (as you would expect, our percentage of Catholic students is also significantly higher). At AMC, we enroll almost twice as many first generation students than the national average. And this population requires special attention and has unique needs.

If we want our students to graduate and be able to achieve their educational goals of advanced degrees, helping first generation college students is key. And next week, I will share what the research says about their needs and how colleges like AMC address them.

(As always, your comments and questions are welcome.)


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Guest Tuesday, 29 July 2014