High-school students in the 1980’s are more concerned about future employment than were students of two decades ago, and they are frustrated by guidance-counseling programs that do not help them address their job concerns, according to the findings of a recent study of adolescent problems.
School grades and jobs were cited most often as the primary concerns of the 6,000 9th- through 12th-grade students included in the survey, followed by anxieties about attending college, according to Russell J. Watson, who conducted the research as a doctoral candidate at Northern Illinois University.
“They’re very worried that ‘if I don’t get the best grades, I’m not going to make it,”’ he said.
“It’s not for altruistic reasons. They’re concerned about getting ahead of the next guy at all costs.”
Using a modified version of the Scholastic Testing Services’s “Youth Inventory,” Mr. Watson and Marvin Powell, co-director of the study and a professor of education at Northern Illinois University, compared the responses collected from students in the 1956 and 1968 surveys.
The results of the survey are contained in a study entitled, “A Comparative Study of the Expressed Problems of Adolescents for the Years 1956, 1968, and 1980.”
The Scholastic Testing Service is a com-mercial company which develops “testing instruments.”
Like the responses of students surveyed in 1956, students’ attitudes in the 1980 survey “tend to reflect the adult society with regard to increased conservatism, concern for themselves, decreased social conscience, and concern about a secure future,” according to the study’s findings.
More Concern for Social Issues
By contrast, students surveyed in 1968 were more concerned about social issues--poverty, delinquency, civil rights--and less concerned about job security, good grades, and going to college, the researchers noted.
The latest survey also found for the first time a difference of perspectives between adolescent girls and boys.
Girls indicated an interest in college as a post-high-school option, while boys were more interested in the training offered at trade schools and in jobs that do not require a college education than they were pursuing a college education, the researchers pointed out.
This finding, the researchers noted, was a reversal of the 1956 and 1968 survey results and “seems to confirm the marked change in the role of women in society” in recent years and their increased presence in the nation’s workforce and on college campuses.
However, while boys showed greater interest in technical training in the 1980 survey, college-related concerns nonetheless have remained the most common worries among all the students surveyed since 1956, according to the researchers. Those concerns, the researchers go on to say, “could easily be addressed by school counseling personnel and guidance departments,” but they apparently have not been, based on the students’ responses.
In an interview last week, Mr. Watson said that students “don’t see their guidance counselors as serving any useful function. Guidance departments have been off in left field and not meeting the needs of students.”
One student noted in the survey report, “Our counselors only seem to help the students who want to go to college--they don’t seem to have information about jobs we can get when we finish high school.”
Another student criticized his school’s guidance department “because it’s highly impersonalized.
“You have 1,300 or 1,400 kids in a school and they have to have a generic way of processing all of them because no matter who you are or what you do, they have to process you somehow. ... They don’t push you to excel; they don’t push you to do poorly; but just stay normal. Take your normal classes. Go to a normal college. Nothing less, nothing more.”
Vocational Training Needed
The researchers concluded in the survey summary that there is a need for vocational training and job experience for students while they are still in high school and that “school systems do not seem to be meeting this need. ... It would appear that our high-school guidance programs are less than effective in helping young people make appropriate career choices,” the researchers noted.
“It seems doubtful that there is likely to be any positive change in this area if the last 25 years are considered.”
Mr. Watson also concluded that the problems cited in the survey also may exist because students are not seeking out guidance counselors to answer their questions.
A version of this article appeared in the May 19, 1982 edition of Education Week as Employment and College Top List of Students’ Concerns in Survey