On Campus

Peers, not profs, influence student views

Interesting results from a UCLA Higher Education Research Institute study of first-year university student attitudes:

On issues such as abortion, gay marriage and religion, college students shift noticeably to the left from the time they arrive on campus through their junior year, new research shows.

The reason, according to UCLA’s Higher Education Research Institute, isn’t indoctrination by left-leaning faculty but rather the more powerful influence of fellow students. And at most colleges, left-leaning peer groups are more common than conservative ones.

After college, students — particularly women — move somewhat back to the right politically.

The research is the latest of several efforts by academics to lend analytical rigor to an emotional debate. Overall, college faculty lean left politically, but there’s sharp disagreement on whether they impose their views on students. The UCLA researchers are among several social scientists who have tried to undermine the argument that students respond strongly to their teachers’ opinions.

Overall, students were nearly as likely after three years of college to call themselves “conservative” or “far-right,” according to findings, and only somewhat more likely to call themselves “liberal” or “far left.”

On specific policy questions, they moved to more liberal positions.

Sixty percent of the college juniors said they support legalized abortion, up from 52 percent who said so as freshmen. The percentage supporting “legal marital status” for gay couples rose from 54 to 66. The percentage supporting increased defense spending fell from 34 to 25.

“People are moving out of the center to the left during college,” said one of the researchers, Alexander Astin.

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