One of the legacies of the uptight '80s is that students now consider making money a more important reason for going to college than getting an education.
We know this because researchers at UCLA have been surveying 300,000 freshmen at more than 500 colleges each year to find out what they think about careers and politics and why they enrolled in college in the first place.As recently as 1971, fewer than half the freshmen listed "making more money" as a very important reason for going to college. Much more important, they said, was "gaining a general education."
In 1981, the two lines crossed - and the gap has been widening ever since. The latest survey, conducted last fall, shows that 72.6 percent are in college to make more money and only 60.1 percent for educational reasons.
Promoters of the arts and humanities may be inclined to wring their hands over these hard-eyed young men and women who'd rather study accounting than philosophy, but the trend toward bread-and-butter economics simply reflects the financial practicalities of American life. Consider this:
- Every college graduate, male or female, will need to make money after graduation. "Pre-wed" is no longer an option for women. Credentials matter. That's why nearly 60 percent of last fall's freshmen said they intend to pursue an advanced degree.
- The cost of college is increasing at double the inflation rate. Graduates now have big loans to repay. That's one reason law schools are booming and applications to medical schools are declining: It costs too much to go to medical school.
- It takes two incomes to buy a house. Or, as one economist so aptly puts it, "Prices have run away from income." Your parents' home may be worth five times what they paid, but that just makes it harder for you to break into the market.
The bottom line is that making money, always important, has become super-important, which may help to explain why college students in the UCLA survey are more "overwhelmed by all I have to do" than they were a few years ago.