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Record Number of Freshwomen Say They’ll Seek Advanced Degrees

January 23, 1994

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Not satisfied with the prospect of a bachelor’s degree, 65 percent of today’s college freshmen, including record numbers of women, plan to attend graduate school, according to a survey of first-year students.

For the first time in the 28 years of the survey, more women than men said they were likely to seek advanced degrees.

″It’s an indicator of the massive social change we’ve undergone in this country in the last 20 years,″ said David Merkowitz, spokesman for the American Council on Education, which sponsored the survey. ″Colleges and universities are going to have to undergo significant adjustments to accommodate these women who are aspiring to advanced degrees.″

The survey of 220,757 freshmen at 427 colleges and universities found a higher share of women than men - 27.3 percent vs. 25.8 percent - planned to pursue doctoral, medical or law degrees. In 1967, three times more men than women aspired to these degrees.

All told, 65 percent of those surveyed planned to go to graduate school, up from 55 percent last year.

Susan Ferrence, a freshman visual arts major at Pennsylvania State University, said she is looking toward graduate school and an advanced degree in medical illustration.

Asked if she believed a graduate degree was necessary to get a job, she said, ″In this day and age, I’d certainly say so.″

″Our society and our economy is placing heavier emphasis on advanced education, and in many fields the master’s degree has become an entry-level requirement,″ Merkowitz said.

The survey, conducted by the Higher Education Research Institute at the University of California-Los Angeles, said 75.1 percent of the freshmen thought it was ″very important″ to go to college to be able to make more money. That’s up from 73.3 percent last year and 49.9 percent in 1971. Eighty- two percent said college is very important ″to get a better job.″

″These findings suggest that the students may be more interested in graduate degrees because they feel that advanced training will give them a competitive edge for jobs and financial security,″ said UCLA Professor Alexander Astin, director of the survey.

Among the survey’s other findings:

-Tuition costs were a significant factor in freshmen’s decisions about what college to attend. Thirty-two percent said they picked their college because of its low tuition, up from 30 percent last year and 16.6 percent in 1979. About the same number cited the financial assistance they were offered.

-Nearly 6 percent said they planned to work full time while attending college, the highest level since the question was first asked in 1982.

-The percentage of students interested in business majors declined for the sixth straight year - to 16.1 percent - while those interested in majoring in engineering dropped to 8.7 percent. The percentage planning to major in a health field rose for the sixth straight year, to 15.8 percent.

-Politically, the percentage of students describing themselves as ″middle- of-the-road″ dropped from 53 percent last year to 49.9 percent this year. Just under 23 percent put themselves on the political right, while 27.2 percent put themselves on the political left.

The survey found a certain degree of stress among the college freshmen, some of it attributable to problems at home. Record high percentages of freshmen reported their father’s occupation as unemployed (3.7 percent) and indicated that their parents were either separated or divorced (25.1 percent, up from 24.2 percent last year and 19.4 percent in 1986, the first year the question was asked).

Questionnaires were administered last fall to 296,828 new freshmen at 602 two-year and four-year colleges and universities. The survey’s authors used the surveys of 220,757 students in 427 schools to compute a national norm for the 1.7 million college freshmen.

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