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Interest in Computer Careers Declines Among College Freshmen

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Increasing computer use in the schools may be winning few converts to technological careers, according to an annual survey of entering college freshmen released this week.

But the poll's findings suggest that state and national efforts to make teaching more attractive may be paying dividends.

Interest in computer-related careers among freshmen has dropped by more than 50 percent in the past two years, according to "The American Freshman: National Norms for Fall 1985." In contrast, the number of students attracted to elementary- and secondary-school teaching careers has risen steadily for the past three years, the report says.

But the 20th annual survey of freshmen, conducted by the University of California at Los Angeles Graduate School of Education and the American Council on Education, confirmed the continuation of a decade-long trend toward business-career aspirations. Interest in business reached "an all-time high" among 1985 freshmen, according to the report, with 23.9 percent citing it as a career goal.

Computers As Tool, Not Career

It was the lack of interest in technological careers, however, that most struck researchers who prepared the survey report. Said Alexander W. Astin, professor of education at ucla: "It stands in stark contrast to the growing national concern for increasing technological training in our schools and colleges and developing the technological capacity of the American labor force."

Only 4.4 percent of the fall 1985 entering freshmen aspired to careers as computer programmers or systems analysts, for example, down from 6.1 percent last year and 8.8 percent in 1983.

The decline seems all the more dramatic, said Mr. Astin, in view of the corresponding growth in computer use and instruction in secondary schools over the past two years.

"As students have become more familiar with this technology," he added, "they are less inclined to pursue it as a major or a career and are more inclined to view it as a tool for use in other fields."

Students also registered a "significant" drop in interest in engineering careers, the researchers said. The proportion of students planning to pursue engineering careers fell to 10 percent in 1985, down from 10.4 percent last year and the peak of 12.0 percent in 1982, according to the report.

Teaching, Business

Although interest in teaching has shown slight but steady increases since its low point of 4.7 percent in 1982, the report says, it remains far below the level of the late 1960's. Then, the report notes, more than 20 percent of the entering freshmen--and more than one-third of all freshmen women--planned to pursue teaching careers. In 1985, 6.2 percent of the freshmen indicated a preference for teaching, compared with 5.5 percent in 1984.

About 9.5 percent of the women questioned for the 1985 survey said they would enter teaching, compared with 2.6 percent of the men.

The largest percentage of students surveyed--23.9 percent--as4pired to business careers. The business figure was 1.7 percent higher than the previous year's, and more than double the percentage recorded in 1972.

The survey is based on a statistically adjusted sample of 279,985 freshmen nationwide.

Liberal, Conservative Mix

In response to the survey's attitudinal questions, the 1985 entering freshmen showed a mix of liberal and conservative views on key political and social issues.

Some 56.7 percent identified themselves as being "middle-of-the-road" politically, down from 57.4 percent last year and 60.3 percent in 1983.

Both the conservative and liberal ends of the political spectrum gained from the shift out of the middle. An all-time high of 20.9 percent of the freshmen, for example, identified themselves as being either conservative or "far right" politically, a figure that was up from last year's 20.5 percent. But 22.4 percent of the freshmen called themselves liberal or "far left" politically, up from 22.1 percent last year.

Nearly three-fourths of the students--73.2 percent--opposed increased defense spending, up from 67.5 percent last year. And some 66 percent agreed that "the federal government is not doing enough to promote disarmament."

In response to a new question on the 1985 survey, 54.2 percent of the students said they believed that "nuclear disarmament is attainable."

Other survey findings included:

Support for legal abortion increased--up from 53.8 percent last year to 54.9 percent in 1985--as did support for school busing as an acceptable means to promote racial integration. The percentage favoring busing rose to a new high of 54.4 percent, up from 53.8 percent last year.

The number of students calling themselves "born-again Christians"--23.9 percent--has dropped. In 1981, the last time the question was asked, 26.3 percent of the stu-dents identified themselves as such.

Despite the widespread public discussion of acquired immune deficiency syndrome, the proportion of students who believe that "it is important to have laws prohibiting homosexual relationships" was essentially the same as it has been for the past two years--47.9 percent.

Although 69.7 percent of the students agreed that "to be able to make more money" is a "very important" reason for attending college--up from 67.8 percent last year--for the first time in 15 years, the percentage of students endorsing "being very well-off financially" as an "essential" or "very important" goal in life dropped slightly, from 71.2 percent to 70.9 percent. In 1970, the figure was 39.1 percent.

The income levels of students' parents continued to rise, with 20.8 of the freshmen reporting family incomes in the $50,000 to $99,999 range, up from 13.7 percent last year. The proportion of students reporting family income below $15,000 dropped from 20.7 percent to 15.9 percent.

For the first time since 1978, the proportion of entering freshmen who reported having A averages from high school increased--from 20 to 20.7 percent--while those reporting C averages declined--from 21.3 percent to 20.9 percent.

Only 50.1 percent of the students, however, agreed that "grading in high schools has become too easy." In 1984, the figure was 54.1 percent and in 1978, the peak year for grade inflation, it was 63.7 percent.

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