First-year student statistics released
According to the 2004 Survey of American Freshman, Obies, compared to our peer schools, are more likely “to be searching for meaning and purpose in life; to engage in self-reflection; to have come late to class in high school; to aspire towards writing original works, creating artistic work...influencing social values and political structures and improving understanding of other countries and cultures.”
Obies are less likely “to describe themselves as cooperative; to describe themselves as persistent; to have a specific career aspiration; to identify with a specific religion.”
Cynical Obies may now be wondering, “What else is new?”
“Every year or two a senior comes to my office and says that Obies aren’t as liberal as they used to be,” said Director of Institutional Research Ross Peacock. “Actually, Obies are remarkably consistent.”
The Survey of American Freshmen has been around since the late 1960s. It was developed by Alexander Aston at the UCLA School of Education.
“The survey has become the description of the attitudes, expectations and goals of college freshman,” said Peacock. “It’s a way of keeping track of what 18 year-olds want. We’ve been doing it since 1973. Over 500 colleges do it at the latest count.”
Oberlin is evaluated against its peer group. “There are about 40 or 50 in our group,” said Peacock. “We don’t know exactly who they are because the group doing the survey masks their identities. The group that most closely resembles Oberlin is characterized as “four year college, very highly selective.” Some of our peers are schools we would expect to see such as Wesleyan, Carleton, Reed, Williams. Others probably are not those we would normally consider to be in our peer group.”
The survey shows Oberlin freshmen as more likely “to go to college to learn more things and become a more cultured person” and less likely “to go to college to get a better job, make more money or prepare for graduate school.”
“This paints a picture of students with a real interest in learning,” said Peacock. “Students at our peer schools are a little more likely to see education simply as a stepping stone. Our students are maybe a little more engaged. For example, and this may seem trivial, they read more.
“One challenge that this profile represents for Oberlin is that students who fit it may have a slightly lower rate of graduating in four years. Our students are spreading themselves around intellectually, they’re not taking the traditional paths. Taking time out is more of an option for Obies. Also, the survey shows that Oberlin students are far more likely to aspire to Ph.D. degrees rather than law or MD Professional degree aspirations like the latter two are associated in the national literature with higher graduation rates.”
Aston has conducted research following up on what kind of students tend to fit the statistical Oberlin profile. His research showed that relatively common denominators include high SAT scores, people with Roman Catholic backgrounds and people with Jewish backgrounds.
“Oberlin students traditionally are more likely to fit what Aston calls a ‘hedonistic’ profile,” said Peacock. “Go with the flow kind of people would be one way to describe it. Questions about views on legalizing marijuana and staying up all night, which appear on the survey, are all part of that. Very little has changed since the ’70s in terms of the general student view of social issues. Oberlin stays put.”
Peacock does find some results surprising. “Obies are less likely to aspire to be community leaders, which seems surprising given their social and political engagement. But then, they also tend to show their activism in non-traditional ways.”
There was also a test conducted called the College University Spiritual Beliefs Dimensions survey.
“This is an optional addition to the survey,” said Peacock. “We did it for the first time this year. We won’t do it every year. It’s designed to evaluate relationships to spirituality, whether traditional or not. It’s not without controversy. The chaplain’s office asked if we would participate this year and the president said by all means.”
Peacock was unsurprised by the results of this test.
“Oberlin students are less likely to go to traditional places of worship. They are much less likely to say they have official religious affiliations. On the ‘spiritual quest’ question Obies score much higher. On the ‘pluralistic worldview’ question, Obies score very high.”
There is also a senior survey in which much fewer schools participate. Perhaps most useful to the school, it asks seniors to evaluate their time at Oberlin and state their plans for post-graduation.
“We’ve only conducted it since 1994,” said Peacock.
“Overall, student satisfaction has improved but we have also seen a
steady, slight decline in going directly to grad school. This has happened at a
lot of schools, though. Obies are less likely to have a job in hand at time of
graduation. That’s something we have to work on.”