Just over 13% said they didn’t know if they would have enough funds to complete school
Today’s college freshmen are politically engaged, cost conscious and obsessed with Instagram. They also increasingly question their emotional well-being.
So say results from a survey of more than 137,000 first-time, full-time students who started at 184 U.S. colleges in the autumn of 2016.
Just over 42% of the freshmen surveyed characterized their political views as “middle of the road,” the lowest share ever recorded in more than 50 years of the American Freshman, a survey conducted by the Cooperative Institutional Research Program of the Higher Education Research Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles.
Meanwhile, some 35% said they were “far left” or “liberal,” and 22% said they were “far right” or “conservative.” Those rates all tracked higher than for the class that entered in 2015.
The heated presidential election of 2016 had a strong impact on the newest crop of college students, most of whom had just become old enough to vote. Forty-six percent of survey respondents said keeping up with political affairs is “very important” or “essential” to them, the highest rate since 1990.
The latest freshman class also was losing sleep over how they would pay for college. Nearly 56% said they had “some” concern about their ability to finance college, while 13% said they had “major” concerns and didn’t know if they would have enough funds to complete school—the highest for each in at least 16 years.
Cost concerns are affecting students’ college decisions in a number of ways. In 2016, a record 15% of respondents felt they couldn’t afford their first-choice school, compared with 9.4% when the question was first asked in 2004.
That financial worry, along with the fact that more students with psychological disorders are able to pursue a college education with the help of medication these days, may contribute to the fact that fewer freshmen rated their emotional health as above average compared with that of their peers. The figure stands at 47%, below last year’s 51% and the lowest in at least 16 years.
A record-high 12% reported feeling depressed “frequently” in the past year, and 14% said there was a “very good chance” they would seek counseling in college.
There is still time for fun, of course. Nearly 41% new college freshmen said they spent at least six hours a week on social media, well above the prior high of 27%, reached in 2011 and 2014.