, Volume 31, Issue 1-2, pp 31-54

The impact of college experience on political and social attitudes

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In the last two decades a considerable volume of research has focused on how the college experience affects students. The purpose of the research reported here was to investigate to what extent students (predominantly Caucasian) at a highly selective university on the East coast changed their political and social attitudes during college. In particular, the influences of religious background, gender, membership in a fraternity or sorority, and time in college on attitudes were examined. Results indicated that students as seniors scored higher on measures of liberalism, social conscience, homosexuality tolerance and feminist attitudes and lower on male-dominant attitudes than they did as first year students. Given the lack of previous studies of change in attitudes toward homosexuality in college and the current political debate about issues relating to sexual orientation, an important finding was the substantial increase in tolerance of homosexuality by all subgroups. Results are discussed with respect to the special characteristics and potential influence of Ivy League students.

Research for this paper was funded in part by grants from the University of Pennsylvania Research Foundation and the National Institute of Justice (Grant NIJ 89-IJ-CX-0048, Assessment and Evaluation of SMART and Related Programs, Robert Boruch, PI). Opinions expressed in it are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent official views of the University of Pennsylvania or NIJ.