[EAS]Future Students

pjk pjk at design.eng.yale.edu
Fri Jun 1 13:14:59 EDT 2001

Subject:   Future Students

Dear Colleagues -

Please ponder this recent issue on the "Tomorrow's Professor" list,
from Rick Reis at the Stanford Learning Lab.

Supplement your ponderings with this mailing of two years ago, at
http://www.yale.edu/engineering/eng-info/msg00548.html based on the
annual publications of UCLA's Higher Education Research Institute
(HERI) <http://www.gseis.ucla.edu/heri/heri.html>. Their latest
survey, that of Fall 2000 freshmen, is at

Much about the future is unpredictable, but some scenarios about
the future (e.g. evolving health care needs) follow more
confidently from existing driving forces, such as population
demographics. It would be negligent not to consider the
implications of the intellectual demographics of today's high
school and freshmen college students in these surveys.

   --Peter Kindlmann

"If this trend, which is already evident today in some sectors,
develops, the higher education community could face the slow
disappearance of four-year institutions."

    "desk-top faculty development, one hundred times a year"



The posting below looks at the misaligned ambitions of today's 
teenagers with respect to higher education.  It is a is a review by
SUSAN R. GRIFFITH of: The Ambitious Generation: America's
Teenagers,  Motivated but Directionless by Barbara Schneider and
David Stevenson,  Yale University Press, 1999, 384 pages, ISBN
0-300-07982-6.  The  review appeared in in PLANNING FOR HIGHER
EDUCATION  [http://www.scup.org/phe.htm] (2), Volume 29, Number 3,
Spring 2001  and is reprinted with permission.

Rick Reis
reis at stanford.edu
UP NEXT: Not Hardware or Software, But the (Hard) Soft Touch

			     Tomorrow's Academy

	         ----------------- 1,762 words -------------


Volume 29, Number 3, Spring 2001
The Ambitious Generation:
America's Teenagers, Motivated but Directionless
by Barbara Schneider and David Stevenson
Yale University Press, 1999
384 pages, ISBN 0-300-07982-6

Despite the gloomy title, there is some good news in The Ambitious 
Generation: America's Teenagers. Motivated but Directionless --- 
teenagers like their parents more than other literature suggests
(p.  142) and the majority expect to attend college (90 percent)
and to  enter the professions (70 percent). The bad news is that
most of  these teenagers are unprepared for college and have either
over-or  under- estimated the amount of education they need for
college  degrees or the professions they expect to enter. Most have
had little  or inappropriate guidance from parents and counselors,
and most will  receive little financial support for college from
their families.

The authors are well qualified and positioned to undertake this 
research Barbara Schneider is professor of sociology at The 
University of Chicago and senior scientist at the National Opinion 
Research Center. She is currently co-director of the Alfred P.
Sloan  Center on Parents, Children and Work. David Stevenson, who
passed  away unexpectedly in 1998, was a senior advisor to the
Department of  Education's deputy director of the National Council
on Education  Standards and Testing, he was responsible for the
report, Rising  Standards for American Education. He held research
and teaching  positions at The University of Chicago, Stanford
University, and  Oberlin College.

The main research base for The Ambitious Generation is the Alfred
P.  Sloan Study of Youth and Social Development. This five-year 
longitudinal national study, begun in 1989, surveyed cohorts in the
 6th, 8th, 10th, and 12th grades, a total of more than 8,000
students  (p. 267). The racial and ethnic makeup of the survey
group reflected  the U.S. population of 12- to 18-year-olds,
geographically and  socio-economically distributed.

The study shows that adolescents in the 1990s were the "most 
ambitious teenage generation ever" (p. 3), no matter what their
sex,  socioeconomic class or ethnicity. They expected to become
physicians,  lawyers, business managers. However, their desire to
be professionals  exceeds the projected need for those positions
through 2005 (p. 6).

To dramatize the plight of the 1990s teenagers, and perhaps to put 
the findings in perspective for older readers who have a hard time 
understanding Generation X, the authors compare the teenage 
generation of the 1950s with that of the 1990s: the Silent
Generation  versus Generation X. Two major intervening variables
are credited for  the differences between the generations: the
availability of funding  for higher education, made possible by the
Higher Education Act of  1965, and changing gender expectations
resulted in more poor,  minority, and female teenagers aspiring to
college in the last few  decades of the 20th century.

Table 1 highlights the major differences between the 1950s and
1990s  generations of high school students and their attitudes
toward higher  education, careers and life.


Table 1


Raised in a home w/both parents     90% 			            47%

Musical tastes                      Homogeneous 		   Widely varied

Most valued attributes              Being popular,
of high school			                   athletics          Academics

Expectations of high school         Prepare me for    Prepare me for
                                    a job, marriage,  college

Dropped out of high school            35% 			          6%

Expected to attend college            55% 			          90%

Expected to work as a professional    42% 			          70%

Expected number of jobs in lifetime   One 			          Many

World outlook                         Stable 			       Unstable

Life Focus                            Family 			       Career

Timeframe for marriage                Right out of
					                                 high school      Later

Timeframe to start a family           Right away		     Later


The authors found that more than half (56 percent) of the 1990s 
students in the study had misaligned ambitions; i.e., they had 
ambitious employment goals but the wrong ideas of what it takes, in
 terms of education, to achieve these goals. These students either 
overestimated (71 percent) or underestimated (29 percent) the
amount  of education it would take to prepare for their chosen
professions;  many were planning to take the wrong courses.

In general, the 44 percent of students who had aligned college and 
career goals had educated parents who were involved in their 
children's schooling and activities. The mission of the high school
 also contributed to student alignment. Those schools whose purpose
 was to help students plan their careers produced the highest rate
of  student alignment. Conversely, those that focused on simply 
graduating students from high school had the lowest rate of

The authors use a series of case studies to illustrate their 
statistical findings of misalignment among teenagers in the 1990s. 
One example of misalignment is having high ambitions or career
goals  but no plan to achieve that goal. Another example is the
"ambition  paradox." These students have aspirations of a
bachelor's degree of  higher but plan to start their education at a
two-year institution,  where the success rate, as measured by
successful transfer to senior  institution, is very low.

One teenager with uneducated parents, for example, wanted to go to 
college and become a film director. He attended a four-year 
institution but was not happy, so he transferred to a junior
college.  However, the junior college did not have the courses to
fit his  ambition. At last writing, he was thinking about
transferring to a  fine arts college. The student had no idea of
the curriculum needed  to be a film director nor which schools
would offer the courses he  needed in a supportive environment.

Another student worked in her parents' store after school. She 
attended a good high school and earned good grades. She wanted to 
attend the United States Naval Academy but didn't want to serve on 
ship (a problem already). She was originally interested in the
Coast  Guard, but the naval academy brochure alone changed her
mind. When  she applied, she found out she was not medically
qualified. So she  enrolled at a competitive eastern university,
majored in  international relations, and aspires to master's degree
in economics  or business, since she thinks she needs a doctorate
to be middle  class.

The two major factors that contribute to these misaligned
ambitions,  according to the authors, are family and school. They
indict the  parents (baby boomers) for being insufficiently
involved in their  children's lives and for expecting the schools
to do all the  necessary counseling and preparation for college. In
addition, most  parents are unwilling to sacrifice for their
children's education and  expect someone else to pay for it. This
is leading to increased  enrollment in low-cost junior colleges and
increased student debt.

In recent decades, schools have developed comprehensive curricula
to  prepare students for any life path, providing too many choices
and  too little guidance through a complicated curriculum.
Counseling  services are also inadequate to prepare students for
higher  education. According to the authors, "what is often
lacking...is an  effort to help students chart a meaningful path
through the  curricular maze of high school" (p. 140)

To remedy the situation, Schneider and Stevenson offer the
following  suggestions for parents, high schools, and colleges:

1)  Parents should;

·     talk to children about school, become more involved in their

·     use personal, social, and professional relationships to  help
      them gain a knowledge of the world of work; and

·     invest in their future.

2)  Schools should;

·     support activity-based organization;

·     simplify the curriculum;

·     help students negotiate the curriculum;

·     offer work programs that better inform students of career 
      options that match their ambitions.

3)  Colleges should;

·     introduce the college admissions process and career planning
      to freshman high school students;

·     take outreach programs into the middle schools so students
      can learn about financial aid opportunities, receive tutoring
      for math and science, and understand how selecting courses in 
      high school will affect college attendance; and

·     promote articulation agreements that ease the transfer of
      credit from two-year to four-year institutions.

These suggestions are useful but require an underlying change in
the  philosophy of education. The purpose of higher education is
more  comprehensive than just offering vocational training. I am
reminded  of a phrase from K. Patricia Cross's article in the Fall
2000 issue  of Planning for Higher Education, which captures the
conflict between  traditional academic values and the philosophy of
"student as  consumer." Cross wrote that the faculty "see students
obsessed with  preparing to make a living, while they would prefer
to see students  preparing to make a life" (p. 11).

In addition, it is troublesome that The Ambitious Generation views 
changing one's major in college as an indicator of misalignment.
The  college experience itself can expose students to areas of
study they  would not otherwise consider and may cause them to
change their  majors. Expecting teenagers to be able to map out
their minds is  asking a great deal, indeed.

I am drawn back to Involvement in Learning: Realizing the Potential
 of American Higher Education (Study Group on the Conditions of 
Excellence in American Higher Education 1984). This report made
many  recommendations to improve undergraduate education and
spawned many  of the renewed emphases or reforms we have
experienced in higher  education in the last two decades: liberal
or general studies,  student involvement, learning communities,
high expectations,  assessment and feedback, active teaching modes,
remedial courses, and  emphasis on undergraduate education and on
learning rather than  teaching. Most of the members of the group
who wrote this report are  familiar names in academe: Kenneth P.
Mortimer, Alexander W. Astin,  J. Herman Blake, Zelda F. Gamson,
Harold L. Hodgkinson, and Barbara  Lee.

With parents unwillingness to sacrifice for their children's
college  expenses, more students are planning to attend two-year
colleges (p.  8) and then transfer to four-year universities. If
this trend, which  is already evident today in some sectors,
develops, the higher  education community could face the slow
disappearance of four-year  institutions. These institutions would
become de facto upper-level  institutions with the majority of
their students coming in as junior  college transfers. This would
put great strain on facilities  management and budgets, since an
increased number of smaller classes  would be needed for upper
level courses, which are more expensive to  deliver. Faculty would
have to shed their typically poor expectations  of transfer
students, which would require intensive faculty  development or

Another implication of decreased family financial support is an 
increased debt burden for students. This would lead to an increased
 incentive to work while in school, thus further increasing the
trend  toward part-time college attendance and increased time to

One import implication extending from this research concerns the
need  for increased and improved articulation between high schools
and  colleges. The high schools should better attune their
curriculum to  the expectations of the colleges and universities
their students are  likely to attend. There is resistance on both
sides of the equation,  due to fears of losing autonomy. This
issue, at a minimum, needs to  be on every SWOT's list for every
strategic planning session in  higher education.


Cross, K. Patricia. 2000. Portraits of Students: A Retrospective. 
Planning for Higher Education 29(1): 5-13

Study Group on the Conditions of Excellence in American Higher 
Education. 1984. Involvement in Learning: Realizing the Potential
of  American Higher Education.

Susan R. Griffith is chief planning officer for the Council for
South  Texas Economic Progress, a student loan service person.

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