1980 Graduates Rank Prosperity As Top Ambition

By Tom Mirga — September 07, 1981 2 min read

High school graduates of the class of 1980 were significantly more interested in making money and less concerned about working to correct social and economic injustices than their 1972 counterparts, according to a recently released survey by the National Center for Education Statistics (N.C.E.S.)

These and other findings on the attitudes and values of high school seniors are among the first culled by N.C.E.S. from High School and Beyond, the agency’s massive new study of American high schools and their students. (See related story on page 7.) The new student information has been compared by N.C.E.S. to the results of a similar 1972 survey.

Thirty-one percent of seniors questioned in the nationwide student-information survey said having “lots of money” was very important to them; only 19 percent of 1972 seniors surveyed said that. The number of seniors who believed correction of social and economic inequalities was an important goal plummeted from 27 percent in 1972 to 13 percent last year, according to the N.C.E.S. report, A Capsule Description of High School Students.

Homework Declines N.C.E.S., the statistics-gathering arm of the U.S. Department of Education, queried approximately 28,000 seniors enrolled in more than a thousand schools on topics including school experiences, values and attitudes, and career goals.

The new data suggest that seniors in 1980 benefited from grade inflation more than did their 1972 counterparts. The number who reported receiving “mostly A’s” or “about half A’s and half B’s” in their classes increased from 29 percent in 1972 to 33 percent in 1980, although those devoting five hours or more per week to homework declined from 36 to 25 percent. The number of seniors spending less than five hours per week on homework, meanwhile, increased from 54 percent in 1972 to 68 percent in 1980.

Eighty percent of the 1980 seniors planned to continue their education after high school: 19 percent in a vocational, trade, or business school; 15 percent in a college program, but not to achieve a four-year degree; 26 percent in a four- or five-year degree program; and 20 percent in a program leading to an advanced degree. Approximately 75 percent of the seniors also planned to work as either a primary or a secondary activity at the same time.

Shifts in College Majors

The survey also uncovered shifts in the expected fields of study of the college-bound seniors.

By a wide margin, business was the most popular choice of 1980 seniors, named by 20 percent of those polled. Ten percent chose the next most popular field, engineering. The other top choices were health services, social sciences, and pre-professional fields, each named by 8 percent of the group.

The choices of college-bound seniors in 1972 were quite different. Social science was the most popular field of study, named by 16 percent of the seniors. Only 13 percent chose business and 5 percent chose engineering as their preferred fields. Education, named by 12 percent of the 1972 seniors, was chosen by only 8 percent of the graduating group in 1980.

The survey of the class of1980 also revealed that the proportion of college-bound women electing to major in traditionally male-dominated fields such as agriculture, architecture, and engineering rose during the eight-year time span. Engineering, for example, was chosen by 2 percent of women in 1972 and 15 percent of women in 1980.

A version of this article appeared in the September 07, 1981 edition of Education Week