Information for the parents of college students
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A New Way to Get to Know Your College Freshman

You already know your college freshman well.  You’ve had her whole life to get to know her individual strengths and weaknesses, her idiosyncratic ways of approaching her life, her personality.  And every college student, especially your college student, is unique.

However, it is possible to examine and think about college freshmen as a group, to find the commonalities and generalities that are unique to this generation and to these incoming freshmen in the Class of 2016.  One look at this group of students is through the results of the CIRP (Cooperative Institutional Research Program) data recently released by the Higher Education Research Institute (HERI) at UCLA’s Graduate School of Education and Information Studies.

Each fall, since 1966, the CIRP survey has been administered to college freshmen around the United States.  This year’s report is based on the responses of 192,912 first-time, full-time students in 283 four-year colleges and universities.  The results have been statistically weighted to be representative of the approximately 1.5 million freshmen in 1,613 colleges and universities in the country in the fall of 2012.

There are some findings in these results that may surprise many college parents.  Of course, you may not feel that they are representative of your student, but there is material here that can be starters for some important conversations with your student about his interests, attitudes and beliefs. Some of these findings are probably no surprise, but others may give you reason to pause.  We suggest that you share some of these findings with your student and ask what he thinks.

Where are students going to school?

  • 67% of those students surveyed said that the current economic situation affected where they enrolled in college.
  • 43% of students chose where to attend college based on the cost.
  • Only 59.3% of students were attending their first choice of college or university in spite of 76.7% being accepted at their first choice.
  • 13.4% of students said that they were not able to attend their first-choice college because of cost.

Why are students going to college?

  • 88% of students say they are going to college “to get a good job.” (In 1976 this was 68%.)
  • 75% of students are attending college “to make more money.”
  • 81% of students want to be well off financially.

What are students’ expectations and experiences?

  • 84% of students expect to graduate in four years from their current institution.  (Note: the national four-year graduation rate is currently 40.6%.  This is a huge disconnect.)
  • 30% of students entering college said they felt frequently overwhelmed as high school seniors.  (40% of females felt overwhelmed and 18% of males felt overwhelmed.)  This is a rise of 2% in the last year alone.
  • 17.2 % of students plan to live with family or relatives while attending school (a rise of 2.2% since the previous year.)

Talk to your college student about some of these results and ask whether they seem typical to her.  She may feel very differently, or may be surprised to see that she is not alone in some of the things she has been feeling.

There are some key issues that may warrant more in depth discussions with your student.  If fewer than half of entering freshmen graduate in four years, and students are acutely aware of the impact of cost,  do you and your student have a financial plan for a longer education?  What can your student do to increase the chances that she is in the 40.6% of students who do graduate “on time?”  If your student is attending college “to get a good job,” what could she be doing, besides simply attending classes, to contribute to the likelihood that she will get that job?  How might she consider the benefits of the seemingly less “job related” aspects of the college experience?

We think that any opportunity to talk to your college student (or soon-to-be college student) about his beliefs, goals, and expectations is important.  Sometimes it is difficult to get those conversations started.  Perhaps these survey results will be one place to start.

Related Posts:

Reasons Why Your College Student Might Not Graduate in Four Years

How Does Your College Student Feel About His First Job?

The Path to Graduation: What’s Your Student’s Timeline?

What Do Employers Want from Your College Student?  A Liberal Education

Is Your Student Heading to College for the Right Reasons?


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