, Volume 28, Issue 1, pp 51-70

Solving for the X: Aspirations and Expectations of College Students

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Abstract

We questioned if there is a set of values and goals that distinguish Generation X individuals by asking 462 college students in four institutions to think ahead ten years, and rate the importance of success in various life domains to their future satisfaction. We also asked them to indicate obstacles, if any, that might prove to be barriers as they sought their life goals. As predicted, there was considerable value consensus across race, gender, and social class categories, and little to suggest that Generation X college students differ from preceding generations in their core concerns; for example, women students attached greater importance than men to attaining family goals, but men and women students did not differ in the importance they attached to economic success. Unexpectedly, we found that students of color rated economic success as more important than did white students. Women students of both races, and minority students of both genders, anticipated discrimination as a likely future obstacle. Contrary to the popular assumption of Generation X alienation, most students thought it likely that they would achieve their life goals, although students whose parents were less well-educated expressed concern that difficulties with “connections,” money, and getting the right education might impede their future success. Despite the general optimism of the youths we studied, we found no correlation between college academic performance as measured by grade point average, and the importance attached to future material success, suggesting that their hopes for the future may not be founded on present effort and accomplishment.