U.S. economy may be on the mend, but that hasn't stopped it from influencing a generation in an unexpected way: For the first time ever, an annual survey of college freshman has found that first-year students are more focused on their job prospects than their party plans.
According to the "2012 Freshman Norms report," conducted by UCLA's Cooperative Institutional Research Program (CIRP) each year since 1966, only 33 percent of college freshman reported drinking beer in 2012, down from 35.4 percent in 2011 and far lower than the 73.7 percent who were knocking back drinks in 1982, when many of their own parents were in college.
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Alcohol industry experts said that they're happy about the change.
"While we recognize there is more work to be done to eliminate underage drinking, today we have a record number of college freshmen who are making the right choices about drinking," Joe McClain, president of the Beer Institute, said in a statement. "We are encouraged by this reduction, and America's brewers and beer importers will continue to build upon this success through programs that will further reduce the harmful use of alcohol."
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The 2012 survey gathered data from 192,912 first-time, full-time students at 283 four-year colleges and universities in the United States. It also found that an all-time high of 87.9 percent of freshman said that they were attending college "to be able to get a better job," a stark contrast to students in 1976, when just 67.8 percent of freshman said that job prospects played a part in their decision to go to college. Eighty-one percent of students in 2012 said that "being very well off financially" was a "very important" personal goal, up from 79.6 percent in 2011.
"Students have figured out that increased lifetime earnings result from a college education," Sylvia Hurtado, director of the Higher Education Research Institute (HERI) at UCLA's Graduate School of Education and Information Studies said in a statement. "It is important to continue to encourage a long-term view of the benefits of college in this recovering economy."
Two-thirds of respondents in the latest survey said that the economy also affected where they went to college, with more first-year students saying that they weren't able to afford their first choice. And while the majority of students (83.4 percent) expected to graduate in four years, actual four-year graduation rates show that just 40.6 percent of them would probably do so.
"There is a large mismatch between students' expectations and the reality of time to college completion," said John H. Pryor, lead author of the report and director of CIRP. "Given the increasing number of students concerned about college affordability and the significant cost of adding an extra year of college, students could benefit from a better understanding of individual college graduation rates."
The urge to study may have started while today's freshmen were still in high school. The CIRP survey also found that just 13.7 percent of college freshmen said they spent six or more hours partying per week when they were seniors in high school, a dramatic drop from 63 percent in 1987, when the question was first asked.
But, in spite of the fact that they're drinking and partying less than before, college freshmen are still as stressed out as ever—especially young women. About 40 percent of incoming female students reported feeling "frequently overwhelmed," more than twice the number of male students (18.3 percent) who said they felt that way.
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