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Survey Shows 65 Percent of Freshmen Aspire to Graduate Training

January 24, 1994

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Susan Ferrence, like 65 percent of other college freshmen, is not satisfied with the prospect of an undergraduate degree. She plans to attend graduate school.

Among the 1.7 million college freshmen, record numbers of women aspire to higher degrees, according to the 28th annual survey of first-year college students sponsored by the American Council on Education. In fact, for the first time, a larger percentage of women than men said they plan to seek graduate degrees.

Ferrence, a visual arts major at Pennsylvania State University, said she wants to pursue a master’s degree in medical illustration.

Asked whether she needed an advanced degree to get a decent job, she said, ″In this day and age, I’d certainly say so.″

All told, 65 percent of those surveyed planned to go to graduate school, up from 55 percent last year.

″Changes in women’s aspirations have been especially dramatic in the case of the highest level degrees,″ according to the survey of 220,757 freshmen at 427 colleges and universities.

The survey found a higher share of women than men - 27.3 percent vs. 25.8 percent - planned to pursue doctoral, medical or law degrees. In 1967, three times more men than women aspired to these degrees.

David Merkowitz, spokesman for the American Council on Education, said the numbers mirror the changes in American society.

″Colleges and universities are going to have to undergo significant adjustments to accommodate these women who are aspiring to advanced degrees,″ he said. ″In many fields, the graduate programs have not really adjusted to the needs and interests of women students.″

He cited engineering as one field still dominated by men.

The survey, conducted by the Higher Education Research Institute at the University of California-Los Angeles, said 75.1 percent of the freshmen thought it was ″very important″ to go to college to be able to make more money. That’s up from 73.3 percent last year and 49.9 percent in 1971. Eighty- two percent said college is very important ″to get a better job.″

″These findings suggest that the students may be more interested in graduate degrees because they feel that advanced training will give them a competitive edge for jobs and financial security,″ said UCLA Professor Alexander Astin, director of the survey.

Among the survey’s other findings:

-Tuition costs were a significant factor in freshmen’s decisions about what college to attend. Thirty-two percent said they picked their college because of its ″low tuition,″ up from 30 percent last year and 16.6 percent in 1979. About the same number cited the financial assistance they were offered. Ferrence, of Spring Mills, Pa., said she decided to go to Penn State in part because ″it’s cheap.″

-Nearly 6 percent said they planned to work full time while attending college, the highest level since the question was first asked in 1982.

-The percentage of students interested in business majors declined for the sixth straight year - to 16.1 percent - while those interested in majoring in engineering dropped to 8.7 percent. The percentage planning to major in a health field rose for the sixth straight year, to 15.8 percent.

-Politically, the percentage of students describing themselves as ″middle- of-the-road″ dropped from 53 percent last year to 49.9 percent this year. Just under 23 percent put themselves on the political right, while 27.2 percent put themselves on the political left.

Problems at home caused some stress for the college freshmen, the survey said. Among them: 3.7 percent said their father was unemployed and 25.1 percent said their parents were separated or divorced.

The survey found that the freshmen were not reluctant to take stands on social issues.

Large majorities of the students support greater government efforts to reduce pollution, encourage energy conservation and protect consumers, but the support was not quite as strong as in previous years. However, support for greater control on handguns rose to an all-time high of 81.8 percent, the survey said.

Twenty-eight percent of the students said they supported legalization of marijuana. Support among the freshmen for legislation to outlaw homosexuality dropped for the sixth straight year, to 36.2 percent, according to the survey.

Questionnaires were administered last fall to 296,828 new freshmen at 602 two-year and four-year colleges and universities. The survey’s authors used the responses of 220,757 students in 427 schools to compute a national norm for the 1.7 million college freshmen.

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