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Wednesday February 1st

Study finds college first-years are more politically active

<p>Cover of The American Freshman: National Norms Fall 2016 report. Photo courtesy of Kevin Eagan.</p>
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Cover of The American Freshman: National Norms Fall 2016 report. Photo courtesy of Kevin Eagan.

A study conducted in 2016 surveyed 137,456 first-year college students and studied their mental health, behavior, political ideology, adaptation to college and concerns about rising costs of education. 

Kevin Eagan, co-author of "The American Freshman: National Norms Fall 2016," said in an email the report highlighted key findings from a survey of the 2016 entering freshman classes at four-year colleges and universities.

The study was done during last year’s presidential election and revealed a larger proportion of students placing greater importance on life goals of influencing the political structure and social values.

“We felt as though the all-time largest political divide in the history of the survey was a pretty compelling story given the political drama that consumed much of the oxygen in 2016,” said Eagan, who serves as interim director of the Cooperative Institutional Research program at the University of California, Los Angeles.

According to the study, 41.1 percent of first-year women identified as liberal or far-left, while 28.9 percent of men identified as such. This is the largest gender gap in self-reported liberalism to date. 

Women were also more likely to agree somewhat or strongly agree that addressing global climate change should be a federal priority, according to the study.  

Eagan said superstorms could be shifting student views on climate change, and events such as the shooting at Pulse Nightclub could be shifting student views on gun control. College costs were an ongoing concern as well.

"Perhaps institutions will become reinvested in identifying solutions to constrain expenses so that tuition rises more slowly given that more students decide not to accept an offer of admission from their first-choice institution due to sticker shock," he said.

The report also looked at how incoming first-years rate their mental health status and emotional well-being. 

“Unfortunately, we continue to track an ongoing decline in incoming freshman students' self-reported mental health,” Eagan said. “For each of the last several years, a greater proportion of incoming freshmen rate their mental health as average or lower each year, while increasing numbers also indicate being more likely to frequently feel depressed or overwhelmed with everything on their plate.”

Dr. Allen O’Barr, director of Counseling and Psychological Services at UNC, explained in an email what CAPS has seen in treating first-year students.

“We certainly see a lot of first-year students in the fall who are struggling with the increased academic load and often from home sickness for family or friends,” he said. “Most adjust fine over a period of six weeks or so but some do not and they often withdraw from the semester. The mental health concerns are for the most part present but differ from individual to individual.”

O'Barr said some first-year students have some difficulty coping with their studies and interacting with students with different backgrounds. 

“This is totally student dependent and is affected by that student's previous exposure and beliefs or differences. Certainly, some students encounter problems interacting with others that are different but we don’t see it much," he said. 

"Studies is one of the biggest coping challenges, as many students have come from a small school in which they excelled to a large school which presents a whole new level of challenges.”


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