Show them the money

Most college freshmen want to be prosperous; a minority think it’s importnat to “develop a meaningful philosophy of life.” So says the latest American Freshman Survey, which has tracked attitudes for 38 years.

Slightly less than 40 percent of current college freshmen said it was important to develop a meaningful philosophy. The absence of introspection is a far cry from the peak year of 1967, when 86 percent of freshmen said it was important to find a meaningful life philosophy.

UCLA profs blame competitive pressure to get into college. I blame a weak economy.

Far more high school students go on to college now than a generation ago. Yet grades keep rising.

Students earning A averages hit a record high of 47 percent, compared with 18 percent in 1968. That apparent grade inflation ”shows that as the A average becomes the norm, the C grade is becoming a thing of the past,” said Alexander W. Astin, the UCLA education professor who founded the survey.

Interest in politics is rising but remains much lower than in the ’60s. Students are shifting to the right. Drinking, smoking and partying continue to decline.

About Joanne


  1. I would have thought that developing a career with the ability to support a family was a meaningful life philosophy, at least for a college student.

    If I were to speak to a graduating class (not likely to happen), it would go something like, “Make money. Make babies. Learn how the world works. Do this successfully for 20 or 30 years. Then, if you still see the need to change the world, people will be more apt to take you seriously.”

    I wish somebody had told me that. Maybe they did…

  2. Drinking and partying declining? I doubt it

  3. I was a student who did what I wanted for lots of my time in college. Art, creative writing, and various liberal arts classes were what I took. Throughout my undergraduate years, I was finding out what I didn’t want to do with my life. In the end, I had a generally useless degree in all respect but one: it got me into graduate school.

    Looking back, I don’t regret being an idealist or a dreamer, but I’m glad I grew out of it. No one can take my education away from me, but I’m glad that I found a professional degree that takes my hodgepodge of learning and makes it into a marketable talent. I’m glad I found library school, or else I’d have to rely on an appearance on Jeopardy! to make a down payment on a home.

  4. I think that the decrease in drinking and partying is related to two factors: older students and stricter campuses. Nowadays, students are often married, going back for second degrees, and just plain older and thus (generally) more mature. And the number of “dry” campuses is getting bigger all the time.

  5. You don’t have to go to college to develop a meaningful life philosophy. And even if you do go to college, college isn’t necessarily what you look to in order to get one.

  6. Can you imagine graduates suing colleges because it failed to help them “develop a meaningful philosophy of life”?

    “Where did we go wrong?” wonders a professor. “Maybe if we preached more, and taught even less …”

  7. “Make money. Make babies. Learn how the world works. Do this successfully for 20 or 30 years. Then, if you still see the need to change the world, people will be more apt to take you seriously.”

    Except that there are *very* few who have the energy or desire to change the world at 50-60. If you’re going to take a crack at changing the world, the best time to do it is 15-30. You’ve got few responsibilities or attachments. Most importantly, you haven’t already realized the near impossibility of changing the world.

  8. Wacky Hermit says:

    Tom West has a good point. On the other hand, it is very difficult to simultaneously change the world and raise babies (unless you are making babies to change the world). So if you spend your 15-30 years changing the world, you end up being too tired to run after babies afterwards. Perhaps the best course is to try to change the world by making it full of children who are moral and educated. Then you can kill two birds with one stone, and have some of your best years free to pursue whatever else you want.

    I’ve always maintained that people should have their babies while they are young (under 35) and relatively stupid. If they waited until they really knew what they were doing, few of them would have the energy to do it, and the world would rapidly depopulate. Also, with all the wisdom of their age, they would realize the near impossibility of raising a child, and perhaps give up before they’d even started.

  9. “The horror, the horror”.

  10. I’m still trying to figure out where all the students earning A averages go to college and what they major in.

  11. Richard Brandshaft says:

    1) ”develop a meaningful philosophy of life.” seems vague and squishy to me. I would have considered it a nonsense question when I was a freshman. 45 years later, I still don’t know what it means.

    2) That said, in 1967 people felt prosperous, and reasonably sure that the future would be more so. When you’re not worried about money, it’s easy to see there are more important things in life. As Ms. Jacobs said, things are different now.

    3) As for students being more conservative, see (2). Conservatives have been getting more control over economic policy for 30+ years. The result — the weekly salary of most American workers has roughly halved since the early 1970s. Ironically, the failure of conservative policies makes people more conservative.

    4) Tom West got it right. “If the world is ever saved, it will be by someone too young to know it can’t be done.” (I don’t know whom I’m quoting.)

  12. Actually, I have to disagree with Richard’s #3. I don’t think conservative policies have failed. But that’s a matter of opinion, since economics is an incredibly complex field where the only certainty is that your particular theory is going to be proved wrong – eventually. But the last 30+ years haven’t been totally conservative in nature, as far as economic policy goes.. In fact, there has never been a time of purely conservative or purely liberal economic policies. Each one is always diluted and diverted by some limited success or legacy programs of the other, so unfortunately it is never clear-cut as to whether a particular philosophy is to blame. There does seem to be somewhat of a cycle, however: Economic downturns tend to occur toward the end of a Democratic presidency, a Republican president is elected and the economy turns around only to be hoist on the petard of it’s own success when economic improvement leads to renewed focus on social issues and a Republican president is ousted in favor of a socially-liberal Democrat, only to begin the cycle again.

    Students today are indeed tending to be more conservative, though. It’s also a cycle: today’s students and young adults are conservative because their Boomer parents were liberals. The Boomers rebelled against their conservative WWII-era parents. The WWII folks were rebelling against the excesses of the liberal Roaring Twenties/Post WWI folks, who were in rebellion against their conservative Victorian era parents….

  13. “the weekly salary of most American workers has roughly halved since the early 1970s”

    That’s not what is suggested here:

  14. 11 years ago, the _Atlantic Monthly_ ran a fascinating article about generational conflict between “boomers” and “thirteeners”. It’s available online, in the Atlantic’s back issues section (Neil Howe and William Strauss. The Atlantic Monthly; December 1992; The New Generation Gap – 92.12 (Part Three); Volume 270, No. 6; page 67-89. )

    The writers draw comparisons with earlier generational conflicts, which are thought-provoking to say the least. In the terms of the article from ’92, today’s college kids are “millenials,” of whom Howe and Strauss predict, “If, slowly but surely, Millennials receive the kind of family protection and public generosity that GIs enjoyed as children, then they could come of age early in the next century as a group much like the GIs of the 1920s and 1930s — as a stellar (if bland) generation of rationalists, team players, and can-do civic builders.”

    I don’t know if that prediction will hold true, because the attacks on September 11th were unpredictable and catastrophic. I suspect their effects were felt deeply by the young; how deeply, we may only be able to judge in the interesting* times ahead.

    *interesting in the old curse of, “may you live in interesting times.”

  15. Jack Tanner says:

    boo – don’t confuse them with facts. By every measurable indicator wealth is steadily increasing but that just doesn’t work for the pity partiers.

  16. Bill Leonard says:

    I also disagree with Mr. Brandschaft’s point #3. In spite of all the hand-wringing by those on the political left, virtually everyone in the western industrialized societies (I’m also including japan here, and quickly emerging South Korea) live better in all practical ways and are far better fed than even royalty was three centuries ago.

    It is true that things may not seem as equally rosy, economically, as they were in recent decades. But much of that is false comparison. In comparative terms, for instance, the case could be made that things were far better economically in the 1950s than today. But in those days, there were only two economies: the United States and everyone else.