What is most important to college students and recent graduates?

May 24th, 2012

Having a job with an impact on important causes? Having a prestigious career? Being a leader in the community?

No. The most important goal among college students is financial security.

Above all other major life goals, today’s college students and recent graduates are looking for financial security.

That’s one finding from a report released today from the Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University.

In February the center surveyed juniors, seniors and graduate students at four-year colleges — as well as working college graduates of earlier generations — about life and career. Among the more interesting questions was one about the importance of various life goals.

While young people, and particularly today’s generation of young people, are generally thought to be more interested in pursuing their ideals and passions than money, 91 percent of college students and 95 percent of millennials (here referring to college graduates between ages of 21 and 32) said that being financially secure was either essential or very important to them.

Charles Murray made a similar point in Coming Apart. In the past, most Americans reported that the most important goal was having a career that was satisfying. In Europe, the most important goal consistently was job security. Recognize that these two are often at odds. In recent years, that trend has been changing in America, as more Americans prefer job security to having a fulfilling career (this is closer to European numbers). Murray notes that this change represents a shift in the American ethos.

The numbers in this recent study seem to confirm Murray’s point.