Class of '01: A Bit More Mellow Than Their Elders


With the first class of the new millennium walking off podiums and, recession notwithstanding, into the workplace, a recently released survey examines exactly what this new breed of graduates is all about.

The study, called "Generation 2001" and conducted by the Harris Poll, includes comparisons between opinions of this year's graduating class and other Americans. The survey of 2,001 students from 118 colleges, sponsored by the Northwestern Mutual financial services company, also compares responses by the class of 2001 this spring to similar questions in a poll conducted when they were freshmen.

The survey results are in, and, Mom and Dad, you may want to sit down for this report card. Your sons and daughters are now 18% less likely to consider it "very important" to earn a high salary than they were in 1997 before you shelled out four years' tuition. They are 31% less likely to think it is very important to have a job that's high in prestige, the study found.

Ten percent have dropped plans to pursue medical careers, and, as a group, they have slightly lower salary expectations than they had as freshmen. But if you find it at all consoling, they are 10% more likely to consider it very important to have a job that requires creativity.

"I'm a product of a liberal arts education," said Steven DiMirsky, a graduate of Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pa. "The ideal job for me would be doing something creative."

When asked about 11 different problems facing America (such as education, the environment, crime, disease, the economy and a terrorist attack on the United States), in every single category, fewer members of the class of 2001 said they are worried than are other American adults polled. For example, 70% of American adults say they worry about crime; only 48% of 2001 graduates feel that way.

Brian Bagenstose, 22, a graduate of Lafayette College in Easton, Pa., said he believes that may be because college students haven't been exposed to some of the country's problems.

"We're a bit sheltered from it," Bagenstose said. "We may not have been as directly affected as someone who's 40 and seen more of it."

But they are more likely than other Americans to question where the United States is headed--42% of them believe the country is headed in the wrong direction as opposed to 27% of other Americans.

Furthermore, 2001 students had less confidence in national institutions, such as the military, Supreme Court, colleges and universities and medicine than other Americans.

Seventy-nine percent do not support affirmative action and 87% believe race relations in the United States are fair or better. But even if they don't have confidence in the government, class of 2001 students are plenty sure of themselves, the study found. Eighty-three percent of those polled say they are confident that they will get to where they want to be in life.

The majority of those surveyed--73%--say they believe it is "very likely" that they will be able to afford the same lifestyle they grew up with. But 33% of students polled say they have different values and lifestyles than their parents do, and 23% say there is a "big difference" in how they intend to live their lives compared to their parents.

The study also found significant gender differences between responses.

Female students polled from the class of 2001 are more likely than their male peers to have established specific goals for the next five years and slightly more confident that someday they will get to where they want to be in life.

Women are also 12% more likely to think it very important that they find a job that has an impact on the world. But men are nearly twice as likely as women to expect a starting salary of $40,000 or more and 9% more likely to think it is very important that they earn a high salary.

Men--by a 7% gap--are more likely to say they "strongly agree" that they "expect to sacrifice time with their families" in order to advance their careers, says the study.

The one desire both sexes shared: flexible working hours.

"Absolutely, I care about that," said Jamie Harkins, 21. "I've been reading all the articles, like in Working Mom, and I'm really impressed with the initiative some companies are taking. It's not like I'm planning to get married and have kids now, but you never know what's going to happen."

And the largest gap between male and female students surveyed came as no surprise to local graduates hearing the study's results. The poll found male members of the 2001 class are more likely (51% compared to 38%) to be satisfied with their bodies.

"You run into that everywhere," Harkins said, laughing. "Even at graduation, all the women were worried about their gowns and how they looked and the guys did not even care."

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