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Students Bear More of College Cost, Increase Focus on Studies

At the same time students are paying more of their own share of college costs, many are becoming more serious about their studies, a new survey shows.

The American Freshman: National Norms Fall 2011 is a survey of more than 200,000 incoming first-time, full-time college students at four-year institutions and is conducted by the Higher Education Research Institute as part of the Cooperative Institutional Research Program at UCLA's Graduate School of Education & Information Studies.

Among the survey highlights showing students are more academically oriented when entering college:

• The percentage of incoming first-year students who took at least one Advanced Placement course in high school rose from 67.9 percent in 2009 to 71 percent in 2011, and those who had taken five or more went up from 18.7 percent to 21.7 percent in the same period.

• When it comes to homework, 39.5 percent of high school seniors said they spent six or more hours a week studying, up from 37.3 percent in 2010.

• Just over 69 percent of students said they frequently took notes during class as high school seniors, up from 67 percent last year.

• Freshmen increasingly expected to discuss course content with their peers outside of class (48.8 percent in 2011, up from 46.9 percent the year before), something that is connected with staying in school and better performance.

• Drinking is down: High school seniors who said they drank beer occasionally or frequently as high school seniors dropped from 38.4 percent in 2010 to 35.4 percent in 2011; those who consumed wine and/or liquor fell from 43.3 percent to 41.1 percent.

College freshman also face increased financial pressure in the economic downturn. The survey highlighted those changes, as well:

• Incoming students paying for college with grants or scholarships was down, from 73.4 percent in 2010 to 69.5 percent in this year's survey.

• The proportion of students receiving $10,000 or more in grants or scholarships in 2011 dropped to 26.8 percent, compared with 29.2 percent in 2010.

• About 13.3 percent of freshman expected to take out $10,000 or more in loans to pay for just the first year of college. In 2001, the figure was 5.6 percent.

• Unemployment for parents of incoming freshman continued at high levels— in 2011, 4.7 percent of students' fathers didn't have a job and 8.6 percent of their mothers were unemployed, about the same as the previous year for both.

The 2011 Freshman Norms report is based on the responses of 203,967 first-time, full-time students at 270 of the nation's baccalaureate colleges and universities. The survey has been conducted annually since 1966.

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