College Freshmen Are More Liberal on Gay Marriage, Abortion

First-year college students are more socially liberal than their predecessors on issues such as same-sex marriage and public education for undocumented students, according to an annual survey released today.

More than 71 percent of respondents who were freshmen in 2011 indicated same-sex couples should be able to marry, up from 64.9 percent two years earlier, according to the survey by the Higher Education Research Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles.

The survey, which began measuring student opinions and concerns in 1966, also found more students supporting abortion rights, with almost 61 percent saying abortion should be legal. Forty-three percent opposed denying undocumented students access to public higher education, down from 47.2 percent two years earlier.

“A lot of the focus right now is on the Republican debates where you don’t necessarily see these particular viewpoints being part of the candidates platforms,” John Pryor, the report’s lead author, said in a phone interview. Candidates should go on college campuses more, where students have a “different picture” of the issues, he said.

More students discussed college-course content outside their classes and spent more time in high school studying and taking Advanced Placement courses. Fewer reported drinking alcohol in high-school than in 2010.

Scholarships Drop

With increasing tuition costs and U.S. student-loan debt approaching $1 trillion and surpassing credit card debt, funding college is growing more difficult for students every year, Pryor said. Fewer scholarships are available and for less money, according to the report.

“Fewer of them are reporting that they received grants or scholarships,” Pryor said.

Students reporting $10,000 or more in scholarships dropped to 26.8 percent, down more than two percentage points from last year.

The survey responses came from 203,967 first-year, full-time students at 270 colleges across the country. The results were statistically adjusted to reflect the responses of the 1.5 million first-time, full-time students entering four-year colleges as freshmen in 2011.

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