By Kate Stringer , Staff Writer firstname.lastname@example.org
From THE BEACON
Their hair was bigger, their student loans were smaller and Facebook didn’t distract them from their homework. Welcome to life at UP twenty years ago.
University of Portland isn’t what it used to be, and that’s not just because we have a gutted library. Students have been evolving over the years, and these changes have not gone unnoticed by faculty and staff. Paul Myers, Director of Health Services, has been studying how students have changed in the last 19 years and said everything from the way students interact to how they use technology has shifted.
Despite the changing face of the UP college student, Myers said that “the more things change, the more they stay the same.”[nggallery id=7]
Being the best
According to Myers, this generation of UP students feel even more pressure to succeed academically. Since middle school, students have been getting the message from peers, parents, teachers and the media that college is competitive and students must be the best to achieve success.
“It puts a lot of stress and pressure at aiming for the Ivy League,” Myers said. “If you don’t get into the Ivy League then somehow you’re not good enough; these things get internalized [by students].”
UP’s data reflect this, as incoming freshman are smarter than they used to be.
According to UP’s Institutional Research, incoming freshmen SAT scores are rising. In 2003 the average score was 1173. This year the average is 1195, the second highest in UP history.
Additionally, GPA’s are higher, rising from 3.62 in 2003 to a high of 3.68 in 2011.
Once students arrive at college, Myers said the anticipation of graduate school and the anxiety to find a job to pay off loans causes students to feel a greater pressure to maintain a high GPA. If this expectation is not met, anxiety increases.
“Not all of them get to be in the top 10 percent [of their class] and they feel like failures even though they’re going to a prestigious school,” Myers said. “They’re doing an outstanding job [but] getting a 3.0 instead of a 3.8.”
However, as students progress through college, many come to realize the value of an education is not in the brand name of a school. Myers said that students come to appreciate the excellent academic institutions in the Northwest, and the small student – to – faculty ratio not found among bigger schools.
Senior Erin Thompson agrees that a valuable education isn’t something that’s solely found in the Ivy Leagues.
“What you put into your education is what you get out, especially at UP,” Thompson said. “The majority of classes are not only challenging but you come out learning something.”
While students of the 1980’s and 90’s were known as the “me” generation, Myers believes the current generation of students at UP is community – oriented.
“This generation is moving back in the direction of being more community focused and less selfish than in prior generations,” Myers said. “We’re seeing and hearing students much more interested in the environment and the community.”
Laura Goble, director of the Moreau Center for Service and Leadership, said 3,400 UP students participated in 163,891 hours of community service during the 2010-2011 school year. Also, more students are getting their community service done in class.
“A lot of students don’t have time to do service outside of class, so it’s really meaningful when it’s assigned,” Goble said.
Junior Kay Bodmer agrees that UP students have heightened awareness regarding their community.
“I definitely think our generation cares a lot about community and being connected with each other,” Bodmer said. “We like being involved in a cause.”
Tuned in or tuned out?
There’s no doubt that with the inventions of texting, Facebook, email and Twitter, students are more connected to their world than past generations.
Myers said it makes it easier for students to stay in touch when studying abroad.
“People track each other all day long back in their hometown,” Myers said. “Salzburg-ers know exactly what’s going on in their hall here all day.”
Whether technology creates social isolation or not, it connects this generation to their peers when geography fails to do so.
“Facebook helps slow the separation process,” Myers said. “Geography really had a big affect on who you talked to so if you moved away that really meant cutting off those relationships.”
Junior Jen Burke agrees that technology plays a big part in maintaining relationships despite distance.
“My family lives in California so sometimes it’s hard when we don’t see each other for months at a time,” Burke said. “Weekly Skype dates help them [my family] feel better about me living in a different state.”
English professor Herman Asarnow, who has taught at UP since 1979, has noticed student growth in academic ability.
“We have more [students] who are really able, and every student is valuable,” Asarnow said. “It raises the discourse in the classroom. People are able to read, write and speak better as a whole.”
Robert Duff, a social and behavioral sciences professor who has taught at UP since 1972, attributes the increase in academic abilities to several factors, the main one being Father Tyson’s work as UP president starting in 1990.
“He changed things tremendously. He stopped accepting students below a certain level [academically]. He increased tuition but started the scholarship program,” Duff said. “The last 20 years, the character of the students has been different. They’re more competitive and more conscious of grades.”
Asarnow adds that it’s not only the time spent in college students are concerned about, but the time spent after college.
“Everybody wants to do more intellectual work, postgraduate and fellowships and just generally I think that’s a good thing,” Asarnow said. “Since 1990 we’ve made [UP] a richer place, richer in the sense of more interesting – that draws people naturally to it.”
Freshman Emily Hance agrees that she feels intellectually challenged in her classes.
“My high school was really good but I can tell that everyone is here to learn,” she said.
UP students now hail from a wider geographic range in the U.S., Myers said. UP Institutional Research says that in 2003, 26 percent of students were from Western states, with 31 percent coming from the Portland area. Now, in 2012, 32 percent come from Western states while 26 percent come from the Portland area.
In the early 1980’s Asarnow recalls greater international diversity as well.
“Some of my best students were those who came over from Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand,” Asarnow said.
When it comes to race, different ethnicities have risen and fallen in enrollment at UP over the past ten years, according to UP’s Institutional Research. The percentage of African American students has decreased from 1.7 percent to 1 percent.
But the percentage of Asian and Pacific Islanders students has increased from 1 percent to 11.5 percent. The percentage of Hispanic students has increased from 3 percent to 9.1 percent.
Overall, ethnicity enrollment at UP has risen by 14 percent over the past nine years.
What’s the same?
Although UP students have certainly evolved over the years, much has remained the same. Myers points out that drinking habits have been a constant, especially for college freshmen.
According to UP’s Core Alcohol and Drug Survey, 50 percent of underage students at UP consume alcohol. Twenty one percent of these underage drinkers partake in high risk drinking.
Myers said that freshmen tend to drink more because media surrounding college lore suggest it is the norm, but usually drinking subsides as students grow older and more mature.
Senior Haley Skelton agrees.
“It’s because they [freshmen] are newly unsheltered for the most part,” she said. “I used to drink a lot my first two years but now I’m over it. I’d rather just have a glass of wine.”
Drinking patterns aren’t the only thing that has remained constant. Myers also said that college students are known for straying from formal religious practices and instead involve themselves more in community service.
Generally after college when they get married and have children they gravitate back towards their faith.
Through transformations and consistencies, Myers has been fascinated by his observations of college students over the years.
“What’s so fun about the university experiment that’s been going on for 1000 years is that interplay of professors and their seasoned experience being conveyed to the youthful hopeful,” Myers said. “It’s wonderful to watch, it’s exciting and hopeful.”