Survey: Today’s College Freshmen Are Leftist, Altruistic, Money-Hungry and Very Likely to Protest

What we learned from UCLA's big study of America's freshman class.


15 Now protesters - Broad Street - $15 minimum wage

Protesters march up Broad Street on their way to Temple president Neil Theobold’s office. (Photo: Dan McQuade)

If it seems like every time you look, those crazy kids at Penn and Princeton and Swarthmore and Temple are protesting something … they are. (Not the kids at Ursinus, though; they’re not feeling well.) A newly released survey of college freshpersons by the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA (see the full results below) shows nearly nine percent say the chances are “very good” that they’ll take part in a protest during their college years. That’s a leap over the 5.6 percent who said so in the 2014 survey, and the highest percentage since the annual survey began in 1967. That’s right: More kids are up in arms now than at the height of the Vietnam War.

They’re not limiting their activism to marches, either. Sixty percent of students in the 2015 survey of 141,189 first-time, full-time students at 199 colleges throughout the U.S. said they planned to vote in a local, state or national election — a 10 percent jump over 2014. That percent is sure to rise in 2016, what with the presidential election, and that’s not good news for Hillary. A third of the students identify as either “liberal” or “far left,” up almost two percentage points since 2014 and four points over 2012. That’s the most lefties since 36.4 percent way back in ’72. Just under 22 percent self-identified as “conservative” or “far right,” which is almost the same as in 2014.

The study also saw increases in the number of students who favor preferential treatment in college admissions for applicants from underprivileged backgrounds, the number who favor legalization of marijuana, and the number who support abortion rights; that last is at its highest percentage, 63.7, since 1992, when it stood at 67 percent.

Who are these kids? Just over 29 percent say they’re either agnostic, atheist or have no religion. Ninety-three percent of those who responded say they’re straight; 3.2 percent are bisexual, .6 percent are lesbian, 1.1 percent are gay, .5 percent are “queer” and 1.4 percent identify as “other.” (Nearly 9 percent skipped the sexual-orientation question.) Forty-six percent of the LGBTQ students are “frequently” depressed, while only eight percent of heterosexuals say they are.

Back in 1974, 80 percent of freshmen said they were enrolled at the college that was their first choice; in 2015, that had dropped to 59 percent. But it was higher for public-school grads (60.3 percent) than for those from private non-religious schools (51.8), private religious schools (60.1), public magnet schools (50.9) or charter schools (48.3). And the liberal arts degree may yet be safe. The number of kids who said they went to college “to get a better job” continued to decline, from 87.9 percent in 2012 to 85.2 in 2015, as did the number of those who came to campus “to be able to make more money” (from 74.6 percent in 2012 to 69.9 percent last year). Three quarters of the 2015 freshman said that helping fellow humans who are in difficulty is “very important” or “essential” to them.

Alas, it’s not all altruism and protest signs for the class of ’19. An all-time high of 82 percent say “being very well off financially” is either “very important” or “essential” to them as a life goal — up from a scant 47 percent in 1975.

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