America’s economic troubles are raising concerns amongst incoming college students and what they want from their degrees.
According to Cooperative Institutional Research Program survey conducted by UCLA, freshmen show increasing concern with financing their education.
In polling 219,864 first-year, full time students in 297 colleges, CIRP found 55.4 percent of respondents reported “some” concern and 11.3 percent had “major “concerns with paying for college.
The survey also concludes that as a result of the economic downturn, students have also shifted in finding ways to pay for their education. The percentage of first-year students using funds that do not have to be repaid, such as grants, has risen to 70 percent. Loan use has also increased to 53.3 percent. Both of these results represent nine-year highs.
This in turn has affected students’ expectations of their education. The CIRP survey documented how importance of choosing a college where “graduates get good jobs” rose to 56.5 percent. Those who attended on an offer of financial aid grew to 44.7 percent from 43 percent in 2008.
The researchers behind the survey were unsurprised by the results, expecting students worried about paying for college to focus on post-college success.
“Given that more students report taking on debt to finance college, it makes sense that employment and financial success are on the minds of this year’s entering students,” said John H. Pryor, lead author of the report and director of CIRP in an interview with UCLA News.
The CIRP results have been supplemented by the responses given by UC Davis students. UC Davis’ Student Affairs Research and Information surveys given to incoming freshmen and transfer students reflect these trends.
In a SARI survey of incoming freshmen conducted in fall 2007, 57 percent expressed “some concern” with their ability to finance college and 19 percent said they had a “major concern” with having the necessary funding.
Student’s short-term and long-term goals with a university degree have also changed. In the same study, 91 percent of incoming high school students considered obtaining career skills as a college priority.
A SARI survey that looked at freshmen from the 1970s to 2001 displayed a dramatic shift in student outlook as well. In 1976, 45 percent of freshmen rated being well-off financially as “essential” or “very important” but by 2001, it had grown to 75 percent.
In the same period, developing a philosophy of life had dropped from 70 percent to only 46 percent in 2001.
“I don’t like that trend but I understand it,” said Gillian Butler, director of SARI. “There is an economic advantage to a college education.”
University officials said they recognize the difficulties students face and that students should utilize campus resources for help.
“I think what’s important is to think broadly about career options,” said Fred Wood, vice chancellor of Student Affairs. “Maybe stay focused on what they want for the long run but be willing in the short run to look at other options that might be prove productive to them.”
Wood said that UCD’s Internship and Career Center provides an opportunity for students to explore career paths. Students should also look to the financial aid office for economic assistance.
“We want them to finish their degree,” Wood said. “That’s our goal when we admit students. We want to be sure that the students to really look closely at the various options.”
UCD freshmen agree that finances have weighed heavily on their education.
“Even though I would like to be able to graduate in four years, it may be a huge struggle because of the issue of money, loans and then thinking about getting jobs to repay the loans,” said Luis Hernandez, a first-year psychology major. “This financial aid versus education trend is very noticeable and is affecting a lot of incoming freshman, including myself and other Latino youth.”
First-years have also considered how future career planning affects their education.
“I agree I think that college for me is more centered around finding a career,” said Shannon Bird, an undeclared first-year student. “But since I am not sure yet what I want that career to be, I also agree that college is about finding who you are and what you want to be as that person.”
Hillary Knouse, a first-year communication major, agreed, saying that college is both a place to explore their desires and to find skills for careers.
“I would like the opportunity to take classes that would give me exposure to a job that I thought that I wanted or allow me to gain the skills in a job that I knew that I wanted,” she said.
LESLIE TSAN can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.