How Far the Apple Falls

January 24, 2013

One of the most notable shifts in the 46-year history of the Freshman Survey is the educational background of students' parents.

Freshman Survey

This Year, Even More Focused on Jobs

A greater percentage than ever before said getting a better job was a crucial reason to go to college.

Statistical Snapshots

How Far Away They Go to College

How They See Themselves

What Degrees Their Parents Earned


Backgrounds and Beliefs of College Freshmen

During that time, collegegoing rates have crept upward, particularly among women, and the findings reflect that shift. In 1966, the first year of the survey, 28 percent of respondents' fathers and 42 percent of mothers held only high-school diplomas. By 2012, those figures had dropped to 18 and 16 percent, respectively, with the mothers now more likely to have pursued further education.

Among first-time, full-time freshmen, the proportion who are first-generation students, roughly 20 percent, is about half of what it was four decades ago, says John H. Pryor, director of the UCLA research program that runs the survey. Yet that group has increasingly become a focus of attention, as educators try to improve first-generation students' lagging graduation rates.

To that end, the researchers released a report in 2006 on first-generation students, finding that greater shares of them went to college within 50 miles of home. The students considered proximity to home a key factor in deciding where to enroll and were more likely than their peers to pick a college where their parents wanted them to go.

The annual survey also tracks parents' occupations. For fathers, business, engineering, and skilled labor still dominate. Occupational changes for mothers, though, have been profound. In 1971, when the survey first asked for that information, more than half of students said their mothers were "homemakers." Within 10 years, that figure had dropped to 24 percent; in 2012 it was just 7 percent. Today, the most common industries for students' mothers are business, elementary or secondary education, nursing, and accounting.

As the world of work evolves, the Freshman Survey strives to change with it. Occasionally that means tweaking the list of occupations—as well as students' majors—to reflect growing sectors. Soon the survey will include a field that didn't even exist until recently: homeland security.