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Changing Goals

January 17, 1988

The Department of Health and Human Services and the American Council on Higher Education have given us a good deal to think about in regard to high-school and university students. Trends are clear: Young people are down on drugs and up on wealth, and getting more so.

Career preferences over the last 20 years reflect a huge increase for business, the first choice last year of one in every four college freshmen, while the interest in education careers, which had been No. 1, declined about as much as interest in business has increased. Engineering is now tied with education--each the choice of something less than one in 10 freshmen--just about where it was in 1966.

In the same period there has been a decisive shift in life goals. A record 75.6% of the freshmen said that "being very well off financially" was one of their top goals--something that was celebrated by less than 40% in 1970. And "developing a meaningful philosophy of life" has declined as a primary goal of 83% in 1967 to 39% last year. This coincided with an increased conservatism. A preference for middle-of-the-road policies increased to 56% of the freshmen, with "liberal/far left" declining to 22% and "conservative/far right" capturing the choice of 20%--just about the same as in 1970.

A study of the high-school class of '87 showed a decline in the use of cocaine, according to the annual federal study. But there was a modest increase in the use of "crack," a particularly dangerous form of cocaine. Overall, there has been a decline in the use of illicit drugs by young people since 1979, but 1987 had the first marked decline in overall cocaine use in recent years.

The study found that almost 6% of the high school seniors had tried "crack" and 10% had used cocaine at least once last year, 5% took alcohol daily and 37% acknowledged at least one occasion of heavy drinking during the year, 3.3% used marijuana on a daily basis, 42% had used at least one illicit drug during the year, and 57% had used an illicit drug at least once in their lifetime.

Obviously there is no room for complacency on drugs. And that goes for career choices as well at a time when the declining interest in education and engineering matches an increased national need for both teachers and engineers. Time will tell whether this generation, putting wealth ahead of life philosophy, does any better than the last, which thought that it had it the other way around.

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