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Feb.12, 2004

Survey of U-M freshmen shows a marked increase in political interest

ANN ARBOR, Mich.—Keeping up to date with politics is a high priority for nearly half of this academic year's entering class at the University of Michigan, according to Malinda Matney, senior research associate in the division of student affairs.

The percentage of U-M freshmen expressing political interest continues to be well above the average (39.6 percent) found at other highly selective public institutions, Matney said.

"Here at U-M, it's the highest it's been—at 44.9 percent—since 1994," she said.

This finding is one of many derived from U-M's contribution to the annual survey of entering classes across the country conducted each fall by the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA's Graduate School of Education and Information Studies. The survey is known in higher education by the acronym of the program founded in 1966 as the Cooperative Institutional Research Program—or CIRP. At U-M, the division of student affairs conducts the survey each year.

Matney reports that overall, the effects of 9/11 reflected in last year's survey seem to have been temporary. "Indicators such as academic self-confidence and status-seeking behavior have bounced back, and interest in the arts, spirituality and raising a family have receded from last year," she said.

One change perhaps attributable to 9/11 in the 2002 entering class—diversity of career aspiration—has continued, said Matney. "In recent years, more than 60 percent of our students described themselves as aspiring business executives, engineers, doctors or lawyers. This year, 43.7 percent of Michigan's entering students clustered in these ways, while the percentage of those who indicated they are undecided about a career choice is at an all-time high of 18.3 percent," she said.

The nationwide attention to U-M's affirmative action cases may have had an impact on entering students' notions of privilege and discrimination in society, Matney said. The percentage of those who think racial discrimination is no longer a problem in America dropped to 16.8 percent from 20.3 percent in 2002.

Other findings:

• Along with political interest, the 2003 entering class showed all-time high percentages in other "community engagement" indicators, such as performing volunteer work (92.8 percent) and participating in organized demonstrations (35.3 percent) during their senior years in high school.

• All health indicators showed improvement. For instance, cigarette smoking decreased each year since 1997 (all-time high of 9.6 percent) to 2.2 percent in 2003, and self-reported "excellent" or "very good" emotional health was up to 61.2 percent in 2003, from 57.8 percent in 2002.

• Integration of spirituality into life was down to an all-time low of 36 percent for the 2003 entering class, from 40.9 percent in 2002.

Nationally, the CIRP findings are based on the responses of 276,449 students at 437 of the nation's baccalaureate colleges and universities. The data has been statistically adjusted to reflect the responses of the 1.2 million first-time, full-time students entering four-year colleges and universities as freshmen in 2003. Information on the national survey is available at http://www.gseis.ucla.edu/heri/heri.html .

Contact: Joel Seguine
Phone: (734) 936-6396
E-mail: jseguine@umich.edu