Issues in Higher Education

a monthly column of national trends and issues.

Emory freshmen more liberal than the national average

Once again this fall, Emory freshmen completed the UCLA Cooperative Institutional Research Program (CIRP) survey of freshmen at colleges and universities across the country. National findings indicate that freshmen are more disengaged from politics than any previous class in the 29 year history of the project. More students identified themselves as "middle-of-the-road" politically, and there was a corresponding decline in liberal/far left responses and a slight decline in conservative/far right responses. With regard to issues, freshmen continue to show a mix of liberal and conservative trends. For example, more students favor the legalization of marijuana, and support for legislation to prohibit homosexuality declined for the fifth year in a row. On the other hand, support for abolishing capital punishment dropped to the lowest point in the history of the survey, and student agreement with the proposition that "there is too much consideration in the courts for the rights of criminals" reached an all-time high.

Both Emory and private university freshmen seem to be more liberal than the national group. For example, freshmen at Emory and at private universities are more interested in keeping up with politics than the national group (Emory, 54 percent; private universities, 48 percent; national group, 32 percent); and 40 percent of Emory freshmen and 43 percent of private university freshmen consider themselves "middle of the road," compared with 53 percent nationally. Forty-three percent of Emory freshmen and 33 percent of private university freshmen think that marijuana should be legalized, compared with 32 percent nationally. As these findings suggest, Emory and private university freshmen are more likely to consider themselves liberal or far left (40 percent and 30 percent respectively versus 25 percent nationally). Although Emory freshmen are less likely than the national group to consider themselves conservative or far right (20 percent versus 22 percent), a larger portion of freshmen at private universities rate themselves conservative or far right (28 percent).

About one-fourth of Emory and private university freshmen support abolishing the death penalty, while one-fifth of all freshmen support this view. Fourteen percent of Emory freshmen and 22 percent of private university freshmen would prohibit homosexual relations, compared to 34 percent of freshmen nationally. Fewer Emory and private university students think the courts are too concerned for criminals, but the gap between groups is smaller for this variable than for the others (69 and 71 percent respectively versus 73 percent nationally).

Last fall, about 334,000 freshmen from 670 institutions completed the survey. The private university group included Columbia, Duke, Georgetown, Stanford, Vanderbilt and Washington universities. At Emory, 1,093 freshmen participated, for a completion rate of 97 percent. In the next Issues column, findings concerning academic issues, finances and aspirations will be compared.

Susan H. Frost is director of Institutional Planning and Research.