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Stanford freshmen increasingly concerned about financial security

STANFORD -- Growing up in the shadow of a national recession apparently has left Stanford University freshmen more concerned about financial security than previous classes, according to a recent survey.

The survey, conducted jointly by the American Council on Education and the Higher Education Research Institute at the University of California-Los Angeles, tallied the responses of 220,757 freshmen entering 602 two- and four-year institutions in the fall of 1993.

Stanford had 1,616 freshmen enroll last fall, of whom 1,460 returned questionnaires. The margin of error in responses is plus or minus 1.5 percent.

When asked about their life objectives, 59 percent of the Stanford respondents said it would be essential or very important to "be very well off financially," compared with 54 percent last year and 57 percent in 1991. About 27 percent said it was essential or very important to "never be obligated to people."

When asked about their reasons for going to college, about 72 percent said "getting a better job" was very important (up 6 percent from last year), and 55 percent said "making more money" was very important, up 5 percent from last year.

One-quarter said they were employed six or more hours a week during the previous year, compared with 19 percent of last year's respondents.

Stanford's newest students also appear to be more focused on career goals than their immediate predecessors.

Notwithstanding uncertainties over the future of the national health care system, about 23 percent said they hoped to be physicians - up 4 percent from last year. The proportion wanting to be engineers or lawyers held steady at around 13 and 8 percent, respectively, while the proportion of "undecided" students - 24 percent - dropped by about 4 percent.

At the same time, interest in global issues, such as politics or the environment, appears to be down.

About 45 percent of the respondents said they had discussed politics during the previous year (compared with 53 percent of last year's respondents), while 19 percent said they had participated in demonstrations, compared with 25 percent last year.

About 37 percent of the freshmen said they thought it was "essential or very important" to be involved in environmental activism, down 6 percent from last year.

Interest in religion also appears to be decreasing slightly. About 66 percent of the Stanford respondents said they had some type of religious preference, compared with 69 percent last year.

Twenty-seven percent listed themselves as Protestant, 20 percent as Roman Catholic and 8 percent as Jewish (other religions accounted for the remainder). About 12 percent of the respondents said they were "born-again" Christians, down 2 percent from last year.

Stanford freshmen continue to be more ethnically diverse than their counterparts at similar institutions. Among those who chose to answer the question, 57 percent described their racial background as white, compared with an average of 76 percent of students at other highly selective private universities.

The political preferences of Stanford students held relatively steady this year, with 42 percent of respondents describing themselves as liberal and 17 percent conservative.

The proportion of students coming from households with annual incomes of $150,000 or more also held steady at about 23 percent, while the proportion reporting parental income of less than $30,000 was about 12 percent (down 3 percent from last year). About 80 percent of the Stanford respondents said they came from two-parent homes.

More than 95 percent rated themselves above average or in the top 10 percent for academic ability and the drive to achieve. They were apparently less confident about their artistic ability - just 39 percent rated themselves above average or in the top 10 percent.

Only 3 percent of the Stanford freshmen said they would end their higher education with a bachelor's degree. Earning a master's degree was the goal of 25 percent; 33 percent planned to seek a doctorate, 28 percent a medical degree, and 11 percent a law degree.

Among other data uncovered by the survey: 40 percent took a SAT preparation course in high school and 6 percent hired a private college counselor to help them apply to college. Nine percent felt they would need remedial work in mathematics once at Stanford.

Fifteen percent said they had discussed "safe sex" in the past year (down 4 percent from the last year's respondents), and nearly 9 percent had spent six hours or more on household or child care duties at home in the previous year.


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