Freshman Survey Reveals Focus on Jobs

January 28, 2013

The American Freshman: National Norms Fall 2012According to an annual survey released by UCLA’s Cooperative Institutional Research Program, this year’s college freshmen are more focused on jobs and their economic future than their counterparts of the past several years.

The tough economy has affected first-year students’ reasons for pursuing higher education and which college they decide to attend. These and other results from The American Freshman: National Norms Fall 2012 were based on responses from nearly 200,000 first-time, full-time students entering 283 four-year colleges and universities. The study also examines the impact of the economy, changing political and social views, and changing patterns of where first-year students are living while going to school.

Employment and Economic Security

With the value of a college degree under recent scrutiny, the findings show a growing belief that a degree will provide economic security. In 1976 about two-thirds of freshmen said the ability to get a better job was a very important reason to go to college, compared to an all-time high of 88 percent in 2012. Students also want to earn a good living. Nearly three-quarters—the highest proportion on record—said the ability to make more money was a very important reason to go to college.

The tight economy appears to have influenced students’ values as well as their choice of college. As in the past, a majority of students still said they went to college to get an education and gain an appreciation of ideas, but now, more of them place an even greater value on job-related reasons.


John Pryor, Director, Cooperative Institutional Research Program (CIRP) discusses how the current economic situation has had a major influence on students’ decisions about which school to attend, and why more freshmen than ever are placing a premium on the job-related benefits of going to college.

Realities of College Completion

Students know that attaining a college degree is expensive. The likelihood of graduating with debt has many feeling that they need to approach college realistically. For the first time, the study revealed that there is a large mismatch between students’ expectations and the reality of the time it will take to graduate from college. With concerns about college affordability and the cost of adding an extra year of college, students could benefit from a better understanding of college completion rates.

While some questions have revealed significant shifts over the years; others, have barely changed at all. For colleges trying to understand the students they enroll, this study is invaluable.