Study finds freshmen are more studious and career-oriented

Stephanie Yang

About 11 freshmen were transported to the hospital for excessive alcohol consumption between Welcome Week and mid-October, according to an October article in The Daily. But new research suggests the class may be tamer than it seems: This year’s freshmen party less and study more, according a national study released Thursday.

The study also found freshmen are more liberal but less politically active than their older peers. And for the third year in a row, these students cited the hope for “better jobs” as the main reason to attend college.

The Cooperative Institutional Research Program at UCLA’s Higher Education Research Institute has conducted the research annually since 1966. The survey took place in the fall of 2011 with about 204,000 first-time, full-time college students at 270 colleges and universities throughout the country, according to an article in USA Today.

According to the study, more incoming freshmen took harder classes, did homework, and took notes in class. Fewer freshman also said they partied, and added they drank less and were less likely to show up late for class.

The results did not surprise Medill freshman Kristin Watson, who said because the social scene at NU is not as prominent as at other schools, it attracts students who are more inclined to put an emphasis on academics.

“Now college is harder to get into and getting a job is much more demanding and harder to come across,” Watson said. “People’s focus is more academic rather than the party scene.”

Although Communication freshman Bridget McNamara acknowledged the trend, she said she does not think it will last. She said freshmen are still trying to set up a good foundation and make a good impression on their professors and parents but will ease up as they settle in to NU.

“I think we’re just very ambitious and eager to do well at this point,” McNamara said.

Communication freshman Ford Altenbern, on the other hand, said he expects the trend to continue for awhile, even with an improved economy. He said he thinks more students are reluctant to risk their NU education because of the competition and the rising cost of tuition.

“I think it has a lot to do with the fact that money is tight for a lot of people,” Altenbern said. “(NU) gets the people that work the hardest.”

The study also showed that college freshman hold more liberal views on issues such as same-sex marriage, abortion, and immigration rights. Yet freshmen who have worked on a local, state or national campaign decreased to 10 percent from 10.5 percent in 2010. At some times in the past 40 years, that figure has been as high as 15 percent.

Weinberg junior Josh Noah, president of the Northwestern College Democrats Executive Board, said the study’s results do not mirror his experience. Noah said he has seen a good number of freshman in College Democrats, even more than upperclassmen.

“I think they are just as active or more active as in the past at Northwestern,” Noah said.

Noah said the NU College Democrats have been meeting with local candidates and finding different internships for the coming year, as well as coordinating with the Obama campaign to set up a campaigning center on campus for the 2012 election.

Noah said he hopes that the turnout this year is better than in 2010, which he said was lacking. However, he said this may have been because midterm elections aren’t as exciting to students as a presidential election.

“Just in general, there hasn’t been as much political activity,” Noah said.

The president of NU’s Political Union, Nathan Enfield, said he thinks the disconnect is strange because the freshmen seem very progressive and tend to be more active in politics.

“I’ve been very impressed with the freshman class this year,” the Weinberg senior said.

The Political Union holds debates every Monday night and brings in guest speakers for the students. Enfield said he knows some freshmen who are already backing candidates for the next election, and many freshmen have been very involved and vocal about their political views. He also said the upcoming election will be a good opportunity for freshman to become involved.

“I think it’s more of an issue of transitioning into college than it is apathy or something,” Enfield said.

Enfield said as freshmen get older, they manage their time better, and as new students arrive at college they have to learn how to put actions where their ideas are and act on what they think is right.

Although NU psychology Prof. Dan McAdams said yearly studies are not the most accurate measure of trends, he said the increasing emphasis on vocational education and job placement is “somewhat concerning.”

In McAdams’ opinion, the focus on career training in college is different from the attitudes of students in the ‘60s and ‘70s. He said in some ways that focus underplays the importance of a college education. That finding an acceptable job took priority over learning about subjects of a student’s interest contradicts the ideals a liberal college tries to promote, such as citizenship or finding a meaning in life,

“I can understand why that’s the case, with the economy now,” McAdams said. “But it undersells the other virtues that college offers.”

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