Freshmen Class of 2015 Was More Involved, With Growing Awareness of Diversity

Posted By Eliana Osborn on March 16, 2016 at 9:34 am
Freshmen Class of 2015 Was More Involved, With Growing Awareness of Diversity

We hear a lot about what today’s young people want and who they are. Media portrayals may not be entirely accurate though. A new report from UCLA’s Cooperative Research Institute Program (CIRP) is the 50th incarnation of a highly researched view of the freshmen of 2015.

141,000 students starting college at 199 four year institutions completed the CIRP survey. For 2015, the document added questions to past versions to provide data about some of the most challenging educational concerns today. There are 1.5 million freshmen across the country, attending more than 1,500 four-year schools. Here are the report’s key findings:

Students more politically, culturally and socially involved

Today’s freshmen say they are paying attention to political and cultural protests around the country, more than at any time since 1967. 8.5% expect to participate in some kind of protest action, a 3% jump from the year prior. More than 96% say they witnessed protests over race during their last year of high school.

Almost 75% of first-year students say that helping the community is very important or essential to them personally. Since the survey began, students have continually felt more and more strongly about community involvement each year. Today’s freshmen also are the most likely to feel that community leadership is an important life objective, with 40% noting it. And 59% feel that understanding other cultures and countries is crucial. More than ever before, these young people are looking outward rather than focusing simply on themselves.

Other things rated as very important to 2015’s freshmen include racial understanding at 40% and wanting to influence societal values, for almost 44%. About the same proportion say staying up to date on politics is essential.

Race plays a role in student priorities. 16% of black students expect to be involved in protests, double the average for all races. Black and Hispanic students are also more likely than whites to perceive racial understanding as critically important. Asian students are the least likely to see value in political participation.

More minorities, women receive Pell grants

Pell grants are received by more than 50% of Black and Hispanic students and 48% of Native Americans. The Pell rates for white students is lower than any other group, with just 17%. The CIRP survey does not include community college students in their respondents. More women than men receive Pell, and more first in their family students qualify for this assistance.

Pell grants are a “necessary but insufficient source of funding to pay for college.” The maximum benefit is less than $6,000 per year, leaving many students to find other means of paying for school expenses. Most Pell recipients do not have families able to contribute to college; 54.7% say they will have to take out loans to make ends meet.

Half of Pell recipients enrolled in their first choice college though more than 70% got in. Their choice in where to attend must take into account many factors, not just desirability. Pell students consider financial aid packages, job training, and career marketability when selecting their school.

CIRP does a great service to the study of diverse student populations by asking questions about Pell receipt. Only by studying data about success and struggles can you ensure that college offers opportunity for all who enroll. Today’s college students are more concerned than ever before about the world around them, something to be considered when choosing new programs to implement.

Eliana Osborn
Eliana Osborn is an associate English professor at Arizona Western College, with degrees from Brigham Young University and Northern Arizona University. She’s published widely in forums such as The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Christian Science Monitor, and the Chronicle of Higher Education.

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