College freshmen nationwide have become more conservative, ambitious, serious and stressed-out, and Dartmouth’s Class of 2000 is no exception.
Freshmen nationwide are smoking more and studying more, but are less likely to approve of casual sex or abortion than previously, a trend the New York Times attributes to a rise of conservatism in a world where freshmen feel increased pressure to succeed.
“The emotional health of students seems to have bottomed out,” Alexander Astin told the Los Angeles Times. Astin directed a national survey of 251,323 freshmen for the University of California at Los Angeles.
Students nationally and at Dartmouth are taking their studies more seriously than ever.
“I look at [school] as my job,” Jay Porter ’00 said. “I cut loose like anyone else, but I know I have my work to do.”
Thirty percent of freshmen nationally and at Dartmouth say they feel “overwhelmed” by their workloads, according to studies conducted by The Dartmouth and UCLA. The Dartmouth randomly distributed surveys via e-mail to 400 College freshmen, with 208 responding.
The number of freshmen nationwide reporting that they are overwhelmed has almost doubled since 1985. College freshmen also report that they are studying more than ever.
More than 35 percent told the UCLA survey they study six hours or more each week. But Dartmouth freshmen study far more than the national average. More than 95 percent of Dartmouth freshmen said they study at least six hours each week, and nine percent of freshmen said they study six hours each day.
UCLA Education Professor Linda Sax told the Los Angeles Times the national results “appear to reflect reaction to an increasing society pressure to go to college and get ahead in life.”
Freshmen nationally feel increased pressure to attend graduate school as a means to a successful future. This trend is particularly marked at Dartmouth.
More than 61 percent of freshmen nationally said they plan to attend graduate school, an all-time high. At Dartmouth, 82.7 percent of freshmen said graduate school is in their plans. Only 5.4 percent of Dartmouth freshmen said graduate school is not in their plans.
Frequent cigarette smoking is also on the rise among freshmen nationally, up six percent from 10 years ago — a trend some experts link to increased stress. But fewer freshmen smoke at Dartmouth than nationally.
Fifteen percent of freshmen reported smoking to the UCLA survey, while only nine percent of Dartmouth freshmen said they smoke.
Money adds to student stress
The national study reported that financing an education is becoming a greater source of stress for freshmen. One-fourth of freshmen now rely on federal loans, and about 10 percent rely on loans from their schools.
The number of students seeking employment to help with the cost of education continues to increase, with about 40 percent of freshmen planning to seek part-time employment.
“Their fears about being able to pay for college have really shot up,” Sax told The New York Times. “They’re dealing with a lot more pressure than students in the past. Feeling overwhelmed is the biggest indicator of this kind of stress.”
Some Dartmouth students say freshmen find it necessary to take on jobs.
“Based on my friends’ experiences, if they are not actually contributing to their own tuition, they are taking jobs to cover all of their other expenses” Karen Soares ’00 said.
Social conservatism is on the rise
College freshmen are also increasingly socially conservative, with approval of abortion and casual sex decreasing. Some Dartmouth students say this trend comes from freshmen’s concerns about their future and finances.
“I think being more worried about the future would play a role in kids’ becoming more conservative in a social nature,” Allison Davis ’00 said.
“A lot are very religious, only a handful are heavy drinkers, and only a very few of them are having casual sex,” Porter said.
At Dartmouth, freshmen are less likely to approve of casual sex than their peers elsewhere.
About 41 percent of college freshmen said they approve of casual sex, but only 31 percent of Dartmouth freshmen agree. In 1987 more than half of college freshmen approved of casual sex. Directors of the national study said the stricter attitudes towards casual sex are likely due to increased AIDS awareness.
Astin told The New York Times he thinks the trends toward conservatism result from “tremendous pressure from parents to achieve. There’s a lot more competition in college admissions than there’s ever been.”
In the national survey 22.7 percent of freshmen described their political views as more conservative than “middle of the road.” At Dartmouth, the figure is 24.6 percent. About 37 percent of Dartmouth freshmen say they are left of center.
Some Dartmouth administrators said they are skeptical of evidence that freshmen are becoming more conservative.
Dartmouth Dean of First Year Students Peter Goldsmith said, “People have said that freshmen are becoming more and more conservative. But I have not noticed the change as much as it has been predicted.”
According to The Dartmouth’s survey, freshmen at the College are more politically polarized than students elsewhere. While more than half of students nationwide called their political views “middle of the road,” only 38.7 percent of Dartmouth students said they were moderate.
While 4.6 percent of freshmen told the national survey their views are “far right” or “far left” of center, 8.5 percent of Dartmouth students reported being in one extreme or the other.