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Wanted: money, power, status, and a degree

Increasing percentages of freshmen express a desire to gain money, power, and status, according to figures from annual surveys at American colleges and universities.

The surveys, sponsored by the American Council on Education, are conducted as part of the Cooperative Institutional Research Program (CIRP) at the UCLA Laboratory for Research on Higher Education.

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Some 4 million students in 1,200 institutions have participated in the surveys over the past 15 years. Figures for 1980 are based on questionnaires completed by 187,124 freshmen at 355 schools, with statistical adjustments to represent the nation's 1.7 million freshmen.

Alexander Astin, a University of California at Los Angeles education professor who heads the laboratory as well as his own Higher Education Research Institute, reported the survey findings in a speech to the Lutheran Educational Conference of North America and in a subsequent telephone interview.

He said that making money was identified as a very important goal in life by 43.5 percent of the freshmen entering in 1967, the first year the question was included. Those figures have risen steadily, he said, until last year they reached 62.7 percent.

on a related question, the percentage of those identifying the desire to make more money as a reason for attending college, Dr. Astin said, rose from 49.9 percent in 1971 to 63.9 percent in 1980.

concern for power, he said, is tested by asking the freshment whether they consider having administrative responsibility for the work of other people an important goal in life. He reported that figures on this item began to change about 1974, when 25.6 percent affirmed the goal. Last year, the number had increased to 36.9 percent.

The figures began changing about the same year, he said, on the status question -- whether obtaining recognition from colleagues was an important goal. The increase, he said, was from 39 percent in 1974 to 52.2 percent in 1980.

"During this same period altruistic and humanistic goals have either remained unchanged or, in some cases, diminished in importance," Dr. Astin said. "While I do not presume to suggest what position individual Lutheran colleges ought to take in this matter, it does seem to me that such value questions should fall within the legitimate concerns of any college that regards the moral and ethical development of its students as part of its mission."

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the women's movement, which has asserted the right of women to receive money, power, and status on equal terms with men, has apparently contributed to the changing survey results.

"Women have changed more than men," Dr. Astin said, "but men have changed, too."

Asked if the changing responses might show only a greater honesty about selfish motives always present to some degree, he said other trends, such as increasing choice of majors and vocations expected to bring money, power, and status, indicated the changes were more than verbal.

He also saw indications in the importance given to economic issues in recent political movements that the values of American society were changing, and that students reflected the changes in society.

Survey questions on political preferences have shown fewer freshmen identifying with the left side of the political spectrum, and more in the center. Dr. Astin said he had not studied the figures to see whether the political shifts correlated specifically with the increasingly selfish personal goals, but he considered it a "good bet."

In the intellectual sphere, surveys show freshmen have been arriving at college more poorly prepared year by year, while they paradoxically come with better high school grades.

"The most obvious and widely publicized indication of this trend is the steady decline during the past 12 years in admissions test scores, particularly in tests measuring verbal skill," Dr. Astin said. "Even so-called selective institutions have been forced to institute what amount to remedial courses in mathematics and particularly in English composition, and each year these courses are taken by increasingly larger proportions of new freshmen."

Other studies, he said, show a deterioration in general intellectual acoomplishment, such as the ability to read music, identify freedoms protected by the Bill of Rights, or telling the difference between stocks and bonds.

With all this, the students can show high school transcripts with more A's than their predecessors. "Whereas freshmen with C averages from high school outnumbered those with A averages by more than two to one in the late 1960s, among today's freshmen the A students actually outnumber the C students," Dr. Astin said.

"Perhaps the most convincing evidence that these increases are spurious comes from the students themselves: A solid majority of today's freshmen agree with the statement that 'grading in the high schools has become too easy.'"

Rather than being fooled by these high grades, he said, the freshmen feel their lack of competence and shy away in college from subjects of high intellectual challenge.

In particular, Dr. Astin said, college students are increasingly reluctant to undertake programs that "challenge their verbal and communications skills." Fewer students, he said, major in such fields as history, languages, and philosophy that require reading ability, critical and analytical thinking, and skill in composition.

As a corrective, Dr. Astin called for colleges to confront the situation directly and to ask students to give more of themselves.

Financially, he said, colleges generally could not afford the lower enrollments that would result from excluding the poorly prepared. But he predicted they would find students responding positively when greater demands were placed on them.

"During the 1970s many of our public institutions made the mistake of assuming that students would be attracted to a program that made it easy to get a college degree: live at home, hold a full-time job and merely commute to campus for a few hours a day to take classes," Dr. Astin said.

"This point of view often carried over into the classroom, where it was assumed that students would be alienated by courses that made too many demands on them.In effect, such attitudes encourage students not to be involved. Our research indicates that students are actualy turned off by such an approach, and that they are more likely to drop out of an institution that does not challenge them.

"Students who invest their time and energies attending college -- and especially those who live on the campus and whose parents are willing to foot the bill for a private college education -- do not want to feel that they are wasting their time and their parents' money. They may complain about being worked hard but they expect it and they want it."

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