College Freshmen Call High School ‘Too Easy’

By Susan Walton — February 08, 1984 3 min read
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Indicating agreement with the national movement to raise educational standards, increasing numbers of college freshmen say that “grading in the high schools has become too easy.”

In the 18th annual survey of college-bound students, “The American Freshman,” researchers at the University of California at Los Angeles Graduate School of Education found that 58.2 percent of the freshmen entering college in the fall of 1983 agreed with that statement, compared with 54.5 percent in the fall of 1982. (See Databank on page 22.)

The survey, conducted jointly by ucla and the American Council on Education, is based on a statistically adjusted sample of 254,317 freshmen who entered two- and four-year colleges in the fall of 1983.

This year’s freshmen are more liberal than their predecessors in some respects and more conservative in others, the findings suggest.

Underlying a variety of political stances, however, is a marked trend toward materialism, the researchers found. The proportion of students interested in being “very well off financially” rose to 69.3 percent in this year’s survey--a new high level in the history of the poll--while the proportion interested in “developing a meaningful philosophy of life” dropped to 44.1 percent. In 1967, those figures stood at 43.5 percent and 82.9 percent, respectively.

The class of 1987 is also the third in a row to register the reversal of the “grade inflation” of the 1970’s. The percentage of students who had A averages in high school dropped slightly, while the number reporting C averages increased slightly.

This year’s survey also found a continuation in students’ steadily increasing support of busing for desegregation--from 46.9 percent last year to 50.7 percent this year. “This steady increase in student support for school busing may mean that the more personal experience students have with busing, the more they support it,” the researchers note.

Answers to a new question on the survey suggest that many students’ experience of integration is confined to school; 20.4 percent attended racially homogeneous schools, while 51 percent lived in neighborhoods that were completely white or nonwhite.

Less Conservative

Politically, the students appear to be slightly less conservative than their predecessors of the last few years. There was a modest increase in the percentage of students who labeled themselves “liberal” or “far left” in their views and a slight decrease in the number who regarded themselves as “conservative” or “far right.”

Fewer students supported increased spending for defense, and more favored a national health-care plan and government protection of the environment.

The proportion of students who said they believed that “the activities of married women are best confined to home and family” reached an all-time low of 24.5 percent.

But there was a decline of four percentage points in the number of students who favored the legalization of marijuana--from 29.5 percent last year to 25.7 percent this year. And fewer students--al6though still a majority--favored increased government involvement in consumer protection and energy conservation.

The survey’s findings also reflected the growing impact of computers. Although there was only a slight increase in the number of students who planned to major in computer science, the number who had written a computer program increased from 27.3 percent in 1982 to 37.5 percent this year.

This year’s analysis also revealed an unprecedented pattern of income distribution, with fewer students coming from middle-income families. In previous years, the percentage of students from high-income families showed increases and the percentage from low-income families showed declines. This year, there were more high-income families and more low-income families. Alexander Astin, the director of the study, suggested that “it may be that recent economic events have served to redistribute income from the less to the more wealthy.”

The survey, “The American Freshman: National Norms for Fall 1983,” is available from the Cooperative Institutional Research Program, Graduate School of Education, University of California, Los Angeles, Calif. 90024. The cost, which must be prepaid, is $8.25.

A version of this article appeared in the February 08, 1984 edition of Education Week as College Freshmen Call High School ‘Too Easy’


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