Class of '84: Conservative-Liberal Mix

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The federal government should spend less on the military, do more to promote disarmament, and institute a national health-care plan, say a majority of the nation's new college freshmen.

But they also think that marijuana should remain illegal, that the death penalty should not be abolished, and that increasing one's earning power is a "very important reason" to go to college.

This diverse mixture of liberal and conservative ideas among new college students is revealed in "The American Freshman: National Norms for Fall 1984," the 19th annual survey by the University of California at Los Angeles Graduate School of Education and the American Council on Education. Its findings were released this week.

Lower Grades, Less Aid

The findings, based on a statistically adjusted sample of 182,370 freshmen, also show that the entering class of 1984 began college with slightly lower grade-point averages than in previous years, filled out more college applications than any other freshman class, and is receiving less financial aid than in previous years.

The widely held belief--supported by the conservative shift among young voters in the last Presidential election--that college students are moving increasingly to the right politically is not borne out uniformly by the survey responses.

In fact, 22.1 percent of the freshmen in the 1984 entering class called themselves "liberal" or "far left," compared with 20.5 percent who called themselves "conservative" or "far right; some 57.4 percent labeled themselves "middle-of-the-road." While these statistics show a slight shift toward the left in students' self-perceptions, they still represent a dramatic change from the early 1970's, when freshman liberals outnumbered conservatives by more than two to one, the researchers note.

Busing, Medical Care

A record 53.6 percent of the students said they support busing "as a means of achieving racial balance," up from 50.7 percent in 1983 and 37 percent in 1976. And a record 61.4 percent of the respondents said they support a national health-care plan "to cover everybody's medical costs." That compares with 59.4 percent of 1983 college freshmen who backed the idea.

Only 22.4 percent of those surveyed said they agreed with the statement that "the activities of married women are best confined to the home and family," compared with 24.5 percent in 1983 and 56.6 percent in 1967 who held that view.

Support Death Penalty

On the other hand, support for the legalization of marijuana continued to decline, with 22.9 percent of the respondents saying they support legalization, down from 25.7 percent in 1983 and 52.9 percent in 1977. Similarly, only 26 percent of the students surveyed--the smallest percentage in the history of the survey--said they would like to see the death penalty abolished. In 1971, 57.8 percent of students surveyed3expressed that opinion.

A majority of freshmen said they support higher taxes for the wealthy, as well as greater governmental efforts to protect consumers, promote energy conservation, and control pollution. However, researchers note that student support for such governmental activities is at or near its lowest point in the history of the survey.

Computer Technology

Computer technology has had a substantial impact on incoming freshmen, the survey found, but fewer students than last year said they want to pursue careers that directly involve working with computers.

Some 50.6 percent of the respondents said they can program a computer, compared with 37.5 percent in 1983 and 27.3 percent in 1982. However, only 6.1 percent said they want to become computer programmers, down from 8.5 percent in 1983 and 8.9 percent in 1982.

In response to 44 occupational choices listed on the survey, the greatest number of students--11.9 percent--said they want to be business executives, while only 5.5 percent said they want to teach either elementary or secondary school. In the 1983 survey, 10.8 percent of the students chose engineering, making it the most popular career choice, while 10.6 percent said they wanted to be business executives. Some 5.1 percent chose teaching as a career.

'Grade Inflation' Diminishing?

The survey also indicates a reversal of the "grade inflation" of the 1970's. For the fourth consecutive year, the percentage of freshmen reporting A averages in high school dropped slightly, down from 23.3 percent in the peak year of 1978 to 20 percent in 1984, while the percentage of C students rose to 21.8 percent, up from 17.6 percent in 1978.

However, the entering freshmen still report much higher grades than their peers did 15 years ago; in the late 1960's, C students outnumbered A students by more than two to one.

Declining Financial Aid

The survey also shows declining participation in federal and state financial-aid programs. Only 19.8 percent of the students said they had received Pell Grants, down from 26.5 percent in 1983 and 31.5 percent in 1980.

Among federal and state government-aid programs, only students' participation in the Federal Guaranteed Student Loan program showed an increase, up from 21.8 percent in 1983 to 23.4 percent this year, but still below peak participation of 26.3 percent in 1981.

Money Concerns

Financial well-being is an important concern of the class of 1988, according to the survey. More students than ever--67.8 percent--cited the ability to make more money as a key reason for attending college, while 71.2 percent said "being very well-off financially" is a "very important" goal in life. This compares with 69.3 percent last year. However, the top-rated goal in both years--73 percent in 1984 and 72.5 percent in 1983--was to "become an authority in my field."

The income levels of students' parents continued to rise, the survey found, with 29.9 percent of the students saying their families earn $40,000 or more annually, compared with 26.9 percent who said so in 1983.

For the second consecutive year, however, the percentage of families with very low incomes also increased. Some 8.2 percent of the respondents said they have families earning less than $8,000 a year, compared with 8 percent last year and 7.5 percent in 1982.

Vol. 04, Issue 17

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