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Politically Engaged Freshmen

The annual Freshman Survey by the Higher Education Research Institution (HERI) at UCLA finds college freshmen are tuned in to politics more than ever.

More than a third (35.6 percent) of this year’s entering college freshmen said they frequently discussed politics within the past year. This record proportion surpasses the 33.6 percent level recorded in 1968—a tumultuous political year. Nearly 90 percent of those surveyed reported at least occasionally talking about political issues.

An even larger proportion of freshmen—39.5 percent—believe that knowing about current events is either “essential” or “very important,” according to the HERI report. This level, significantly higher than 2000’s record low of 28.1 percent, indicates greater interest in current political news among first-time college students. The report’s authors attribute the boost in political engagement to an energized optimism stemming from the 2008 election.

HERI Director and report co-author Sylvia Hurtado said, “I think this last election, and the need to attend to the nation’s problems, has captured the hope and imagination of college students who will be committed to helping to devise solutions.”

Left-leaning freshmen grew in number, with 31 percent of those surveyed characterizing themselves as liberal. The proportion of politically moderate students decreased to an unprecedented low of 43.3 percent. Students identifying themselves as conservative also sank from 23.1 percent in 2007 to 20.7 percent in 2008.

On the job front, the survey featured a new set of questions to determine if freshmen believed they possessed skills employers considered necessary to function in a diverse environment.

Multiracial students rated themselves higher than other racial and ethnic groups in this area. Native American freshmen tended to rate themselves lower. Nearly 85 percent of the entering multiracial students said they had “the ability to work cooperatively with diverse people.” African Americans followed, with 80.5 percent. Some 80.4 percent of Latinos, 79.8 percent of Asian American/ Pacific Islanders, and 77.3 percent of white freshmen also agreed with that statement compared to only 66.8 percent of Native American students. Survey results are based on the responses of more than 240,000 full-time freshmen at 340 colleges and universities in the U.S.

You can find more information about HERI’s 2008 Freshman Survey here.

From The Lectern

Good teachers are bred and cultivated. Teachers are not just born, gifted from birth—they are not magicians. When we talk about the art and science of teaching, we ignore the obvious fact that artists as well as scientists are trained. Even a prodigy like Mozart, who wrote concertos at age six, was taught his craft. In Mozart's case, he was trained from birth by a talented musician and teacher, his father. In art, apprentices observe masters—they learn informally the tools of the trade. If there is magic, it is in the dedication, in the love, and in the inspiration with which they seek to perfect their work—not in the acquisition of their skills.

—William E. Shelton & Deborah DeZure
Thought & Action, the NEA Higher Education Journal, Winter 1993.

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