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UCLA Study Shows More Freshmen Care About Civic Responsibility

UCLA Study Shows More Freshmen Care About Civic Responsibility


 According to an annual survey conducted by the University of California, Los Angeles, the current crop of college freshmen are the most civic-minded in the past 25 years. The survey of 263,710 students nationwide showed that approximately two-thirds believe helping others in need is essential or very important. The number is a 3.9 percent jump from the previous year.

      Also, the survey found an all-time high number of new freshmen — 83.2 percent — volunteered during their final year of high school. Slightly more than 70 percent volunteered weekly, and an all-time high of 67.3 percent say there is a good or some chance that they will continue to volunteer in college.

      Researchers at the Higher Education Research Institute, which has conducted the survey every year since 1966, believe historic natural disasters played a role in the rise of social consciousness for the freshmen.

      “The Indian Ocean tsunami occurred during their high school senior year, and Hurricane Katrina hit the southern Gulf Region in August, as many students began college,” says John H. Pryor, director of the Cooperative Institutional Research Project Freshman Survey. “This widespread rise in student attitudes reflecting social concerns and civic responsibility could be a reaction to the worst global and national disasters witnessed in their lifetime.”

      “This survey is evidence that last year’s natural disasters impacted these freshmen in a significant way that we can continue to monitor,” adds Dr. Sylvia Hurtado, director of the institute. “These are known as period effects, societal or world events that impact students during an impressionable time of their lives. This cohort will likely have a special affinity for social responsibility as a result.”

      The 2005 CIRP survey revealed several other significant changes in student attitudes over a range of subjects. For example, nearly 26 percent of respondents reported a high interest in personally participating in community action programs, the highest level since 1996 and 4.1 percent higher than the 2004 survey. Just over 41 percent believe it is essential or very important to personally influence social values.

      “This survey shows that a growing number of students arrive at college ready to become involved in community service,” says Dr. Carol Geary Schneider, president of the Association of American Colleges and Universities. “While earlier studies suggest that too few students sustain such commitments into their advanced college years, these new data should encourage educators to redouble their efforts to create new connections between academy study and challenges in larger society.”

      This group of freshmen also appears to continue a trend of declining support for military spending. After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, 45 percent of American freshmen approved of increased military spending. That number has since dropped to 34.2 percent. More than 36 percent of respondents also say it is important or essential to keep up with political affairs and 12 percent worked in local, state or national political campaigns in high school.

      The survey also reports a record low number of incoming freshmen who reported drinking beer during their high school years. After reaching a high of 73.7 percent in 1982, the number has dropped to 43.4 percent.

      “Our findings of decreased high school drinking have been replicated in several other national studies and using a variety of measures,” says Pryor. “What is also clear is that college drinking is not in decline.”

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