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Survey shows politics and money concern college freshmen

By Justin Pope
Associated Press / January 22, 2009
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More than ever, politics and money are on the minds of new college students. The latest installment of a giant annual survey of college freshmen shows political engagement at a 40-year high, and more students than ever planning to take jobs on the side and settling for second-choice schools.

With last year's historic election heating up, nearly 36 percent of freshmen starting last fall reported frequently discussing politics in the last year, according to the survey by UCLA's Higher Education Research Institute. That surpassed the previous high of 34 percent recorded in 1968.

As recently as 2002, less than 20 percent of students cited politics as a frequent topic of conversation.

The 43d annual survey, released yesterday, was given to more than 240,000 incoming four-year college students during orientations from April through October. Most participants filled out paper surveys.

Even before the worst of the recession, students were feeling the national economic pinch. Just under half (49 percent) planned to get a job to meet expenses during college - the highest figure in the 32 years the survey has asked the question.

Meanwhile, the percentage of students attending their first-choice college dropped to a 34-year low of 61 percent. The figure had been declining gradually but has fallen sharply, by nine points, since 2005.

The drop may partly reflect tougher competition for slots as a demographic bubble moved through high school in recent years. But cost was also apparently a factor. More than 17 percent of students were accepted by their first-choice school but chose somewhere else.

The proportion of students reporting financial aid offers played a "very important" or "essential" role in their college choice jumped more than 3 points from 2007 to 43 percent - the highest recorded in the 36 years that question has been asked.

"I would expect that we're going to continue to see more concern about finances," co-author John Pryor said.

Students didn't appear more concerned about their ability to afford college at all, Pryor said. However, they were anticipating they would have to patch together funding from more sources, including jobs, savings, and resources from parents and relatives.

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