Incoming college freshmen have jobs and the economy on their minds like never before, according to an annual UCLA survey of college- bound high school seniors released today.
Based on the survey of more than 192,000 students nationwide, two-thirds of respondents said the state of the economy affected their choice of a four- year college.
A record 87.9 percent of incoming college freshmen said getting a job was an important factor in their decision to attend college, up from 67.8 percent in 1976. In addition, a record 81 percent of respondents reported that "being very well off financially" was a very important personal goal.
The 92-page report, titled "The American Freshman: National Norms Fall 2012," was prepared by researchers at the Higher Education Research Institute in the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies. Researchers have published the report annually since 1966.
"Students have figured out that increased lifetime earnings result from a college education," institute Director Sylvia Hurtado said. "It is important to continue to encourage a long-term view of the benefits of college in this recovering economy."
Just as the researchers found a record rate of students who see college as a way to get a better job and a leg up financially, a record proportion of students reported they were not planning to attend their first choice of college because of the sluggish economy.
According to the study, 13.4 percent of students surveyed said they could not afford their first choice -- the highest percentage since the question was first posed as part of the survey in 2006.
In total, 76.7 percent of college-bound seniors were accepted by their first-choice school, but only 59.3 percent are attending that school.
Researchers also broke new ground with the study this year, exploring students' perceptions of how long it will take them to earn their diplomas.
The survey found a large discrepancy between students' expectations and reality. While 83.4 percent of students surveyed this year predicted they would graduate from college in four years, data suggests that only 40.6 percent will actually succeed.
John H. Pryor, lead author of the report and director of Cooperative Institutional Research Program at the UCLA education institute, said, "Given the increasing number of students concerned about college affordability and the significant cost of adding an extra year of college, students could benefit from a better understanding of individual college graduation rates."
The survey found a slight increase in the number of freshman college students who reported feeling overwhelmed in their senior year of high school -- 30.4 percent last year compared with 28.5 percent in 2011.
"These findings underscore the need for colleges to provide and promote resources that support students' health and wellness as soon as they arrive on campus," said Laura Palucki Blake, a co-author of the report and assistant director of the research program.
Among the survey's other notable findings were that more students -- 47.5 percent -- reported holding "middle-of-the-road" political views compared with the previous presidential election year in 2008, when 43.3 percent reported holding centrist political beliefs. The number of liberal students dropped, while the number of conservative students remained essentially static.
Three out of four students surveyed support same-sex marriage, according to the report.