Eighteen-year-olds headed off to college for the first time this fall were mostly born in 1995—the year Yahoo was founded—and have never known life without the internet. In the series “Born Digital,” Yahoo News will explore the ways the college experience is being transformed by this new generation: from how undergrads nab jobs and internships to the way they interact with professors and even how they date.
Researchers who have mined survey data on college freshmen and high school seniors that goes back to the 1970s still don’t know how constant access to technology is defining or shaping this born digital generation of students. But social scientists have identified key differences in the values and habits of today’s undergrads that represent sharp breaks from the attitudes on college campuses of the past.
The current crop of college students study less, are from wealthier families, volunteer more and are more concerned about their financial future than college students decades ago, the data show. Students today are also more likely to display narcissistic traits and believe they will be successful in the future, even as they also report higher levels of volunteering and concern for the environment than previous generations of college-aged kids.
They are also attending college at a time when more and more Americans from increasingly diverse backgrounds are choosing to do so. As of 2010, 21 million people were enrolled in college, a 37 percent increase from just 10 years earlier. The class of 2017 will also be significantly more diverse and female than those of generations past: Women now almost make up nearly 60 percent of students on campus, and white students make up just 61 percent of undergrads now, compared to 83 percent in 1976.
Here are some of the emerging trends that may come to define the class of 2017.
Today’s undergrads came of age during the recession that began in 2007, which may help explain their self-reported feelings of financial anxiety and increased desire to become wealthy in the future.
In 2012, more college freshmen than ever before (87.9 percent) said getting a better job was an important reason to go to college. An all time high of 74.6 percent also rated making more money a key benefit of college, while 81 percent rated “being very well off financially” as an essential or very important personal goal, another high water mark.
Some experts have cast this increasing emphasis on wealth and future finances as indicative of the younger generation’s superficiality. But given the skyrocketing cost of college over the past few decades and the slow economic recovery, it makes sense that college kids today are keeping a closer eye on their pocketbooks.
The financial worry they’re experiencing is eating into their academics. Nearly a third of college freshmen last year surveyed by the National Survey of Student Engagement agreed with the statement “financial concerns have interfered with my academic performance.