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Well-Paying Jobs Are Now the 'In' Thing, Survey Says : Fewer College Students Plugging In to Computer Careers

January 13, 1986|DAVID G. SAVAGE | Times Education Writer

The computer wave may have crested, at least in the minds of college students.

For the second year in a row, the percentage of students interested in computer careers fell sharply, according to an annual survey of college freshmen that was released today. The number of students who said they plan to seek careers in computer fields was half as many in 1985 as in 1983, the survey found.

"We were kind of shocked by that finding," said Alexander Astin, a professor in the UCLA Graduate School of Education, who for 20 years has conducted a nationwide survey of incoming college students, since computer careers had been one of the fast growing areas of interest for students in recent years.

Only 4.4% of the freshmen said they aspired to careers as computer programmers or computer analysts, down from 8.8% in 1983. At the same time, the percentage of freshmen planning to major in computer science fell from 4.5% to 2.1% this year.

The explanation for the drop may be caused by today's students knowing more about computers than those of just a few years ago, Astin suggested. The new freshmen understand they "can use a computer as a tool in many fields," but computers themselves "are not so glamorous now."

Another possibility is that "many students may be misinterpreting the recent, well-publicized troubles in the computer industry," he said, and may be assuming incorrectly that the shake-out in the computer industry will reduce the market for computer specialists. "Virtually all labor market projections forecast a very strong job market for computer programmers and systems analysts."

Engineering Falls Off

Engineering has also lost a little of its pull among new students. About 10% of the freshmen of 1985 said they plan to major in engineering, down from a peak of 12% in 1982.

Otherwise, however, the trends of recent years continued with this year's class. Business is in; the humanities are out. To "be financially very well off" is in; "developing a meaningful philosophy of life" is out.

The proportion of students aspiring to business careers has risen steadily since the early 1970s and hit an all-time high this fall at 23.9%. This was up nearly 2% from the year before. Meanwhile, nearly 70% of the students said they were at college "to be able to make more money" later on, up from the low of just under 50% in 1971. Similarly, 71% of the students said they view it as "essential" or "very important" to be "very well-off financially," up from a low of 39% in 1970.

This fall, 43% of the students said they were seeking to "develop a meaningful philosophy of life" in college, down from a peak of 83% who said the same in 1967.

Although well-paying careers are the goal of most, teaching in elementary or secondary schools is making a slight comeback, according to the survey. In the late 1960s, more than 20% of freshmen said they planned to go into teaching, a percentage that fell steadily afterward to a low of 4.7% in 1982.

Since then, teaching salaries have risen substantially in most areas, and school districts are suffering shortages of new teachers. As a result, interest in teaching is creeping upward, as 6.5% of this fall's freshmen said they plan on a career in the classroom.

The survey, sponsored by UCLA Graduate School of Education and the American Council on Education in Washington, included responses from 280,000 students at 546 colleges and universities. Their answers were adjusted statistically to represent the 1.66 million full-time college freshmen.

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