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Stats Watch

Liberal Studies?

University Business, March 2012

College campuses have long been accused of being bastions of liberal thought. But the most recent Cooperative Institutional Research Program (CIRP) survey of the nation’s entering students at four-year colleges and universities shows that current freshmen, at least, are arriving on campus with their own more liberal beliefs than previous classes. “The American Freshman: National Norms Fall 2011” shares findings that students are more accepting of everything from same-sex marriages to affirmative action.

In terms of social and political issues, students are not changing their political affiliations, but are viewing the issues in a more liberal way, explains Linda DeAngelo, CIRP assistant director of research and co-author of the report.

In response to whether “students from disadvantaged social backgrounds should be given preferential treatment in college admissions,” 42.1 percent of students agree strongly or somewhat. This year is the highest level of support the question has received since first asked in 1971.

37.4% (2009) vs. 42.1% (2011): Incoming freshman who believe students from disadvantaged social backgrounds should be given preferential treatment in college admissions

There’s a bit of a gender divide on the issue, with men (43.9 percent) being more supportive of preferential admissions than women (40.7 percent). Yet, support from both genders has increased at the same rate. Not surprisingly, students who self-identify as liberal are more supportive (47.7 percent) than conservative students (30.8 percent). 

The growth in support for preferential treatment has been among liberal students. The last time the question was asked, 30.2 percent of conservative students supported it compared to 43.2 percent of liberal students.

The support for preferential treatment in admissions indicates students would appreciate a holistic approach to admissions and having a broad view of what indicates a student can be successful, she suggests.

Support for the statements “same-sex couples should have the right to legal marital status” and “abortion should be legal” also increased this year. DeAngelo theorizes that the Occupy movement has highlighted “structural issues that need to be addressed.”
The CIRP survey is administered by the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA.