They are inquisitive and focused on their future careers. Many are bilingual. They think about money – they want to earn lots of it – but they worry about financing their educations. And close to a third say they feel overwhelmed by college life.
This rough sketch, with variations, describes the university’s freshman class of 1995.
Besides these characteristics, the recently released “USC Fall Freshman Survey 1995” (see full report, page 12) also confirms what administrators have long known: that USC is among the nation’s most ethnically diverse schools, according to Kristine E. Dillon, associate vice president for student affairs.
Each year, USC compares its own freshmen and their views with freshmen at highly-selective private universities, highly-selective public universities, all privates and all universities.
USC is looking more like the select privates in the abilities and aspirations of its students, Dillon said. But in terms of diversity, “we look very different from the composite of those privates.”
USC’s freshman class is globally diverse. Close to 17 percent of students are permanent residents or international students. This compares to between 4.2 percent and 8 percent of freshmen at other universities. Nearly a third of USC freshmen speak another language at home: only 18 percent from highly selective privates do so, and at all universities, fewer than 10 percent do.
Dillon prepared the report with Darla M. Cooper, student outcomes coordinator. The data comes from a national survey by the Cooperative Institutional Research Program.
Nationally, more than 240,000 students from 473 institutions took part in the 1995 survey. Results are based on the responses of first-time, full-time freshmen. At USC, 2,042 students – slightly more than 78 percent of the freshman class – filled out the questionnaires.T
“Enrollment of students at the lower end of the income continuum continues,” said Dillon. More than half of all freshmen expressed concern over financing their educations.
These freshmen, said Dillon, “were probably well qualified to go many places, but didn’t have the funds. They looked at USC’s array of programs and its aid package, and said: ‘This is the place for me.'”
USC’s professional programs also attract students who have zeroed in on career goals: fewer than 10 percent of USC freshmen are in the “undecided” category. At other universities, undecided majors range from 13 to 15 percent of the class.
Of concern to Dillon is the fact that about 30 percent of USC’s freshmen say they frequently feel “overwhelmed.”
“It’s important to give these students a sense of connection,” said Dillon. “We think [the residential colleges] are going to have positive effects in bringing down the level of apprehension.”
Most of this year’s freshmen still consider themselves “middle of the road” politically, but those who labeled themselves “conservative” jumped from 24 percent in 1994 to 28.7 percent in 1995, and those who labeled themselves liberal fell from 26.7 percent in 1994 to 24.7 percent last fall.””
The current debate over affirmative action did not escape the survey’s attention. One of three new survey questions addressed this issue. Most USC freshmen favor abolishing affirmative action-based admissions. However, said Dillon, they would still support special consideration for high-achieving and low-income students.
Two other new questions examined hot-button social issues. One asked if students believe “better educational and job opportunities reduce crime”:
93 percent of USC freshmen agreed with that proposition. The second asked whether “children of undocumented aliens should be denied access to public education.” Forty-two percent of USC freshmen opted to deny access. The “deny access” response at other universities was consistently below 37 percent.