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Where American Freshman Have Been and Are Going

…Only 58 percent of students starting their first year of higher education last year believe that there is a good chance they will be satisfied with their college.

That’s a mighty disappointing rate of expectation.  Where’s the optimism?  They have applied and won admission.  High school is over, a new chapter of life has begun, new friends and new freedoms, the world is all before them . . . and yet, more than two out of five have meager hopes.

That’s just one illuminating result of the 2011 American Freshman Survey, which last year got 204,000 entering students to answer a lengthy questionnaire on background, habits, and ambitions.  More significant findings:

  • While in their last year of high school, 88.9 percent of respondents “frequently” or “occasionally” studied with other students.  That high rate is a measure of two things: one, the extension of teen social contact in the Digital Age (my take at CNN this week is here); and two, the educationist emphasis on student collaboration.  Note one of the key findings of Academically Adrift: solitary study correlates with higher academic achievement.
  • Fully 70.9 percent of respondents rated their “academic ability” as “highest 10%” or “above average.”  For math and writing ability, however, the rate plummeted to 45 percent and 46 percent, respectively.
  • Fully 54.2 percent tally less than one hour per week reading for pleasure.  40.4 percent spend more than 10 hours per week socializing with friends, while 13.5 percent spend more than 10 hours per week on social networks.
  • Only 19.4 percent run up more than 10 hours per week studying. In fact, 60.7 percent of respondents chalked up less than six hours per week studying in their last year of high school.
  • Finally, a grave indicator. Only 0.6 percent of entering students intend to study a foreign language—any foreign language.  One in 180 students.  English draws only 1.8 percent.  Languages and literatures used to be the center of liberal arts education.  Humanitas began with the study of one’s own language and others.  Now, they are a flickering sidelight.
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