Academic journal article College Student Journal

Undergraduate Student Leisure Interests over Three Decades

Academic journal article College Student Journal

Undergraduate Student Leisure Interests over Three Decades

Article excerpt

The last three decades of the 1900s was a time in which dramatic changes occurred in the enrollments and corresponding attitudes of students enrolled in colleges and universities. Although considerable data exist on the activities and interests of students as they enter college (Astin, 1998), less is known about how the leisure interests of college students have changed in the last three decades. The present study describes the changing leisure activities of undergraduates enrolled at a large research university in the Midwest at five-year intervals beginning in 1971. Survey data were obtained from a total of 3,454 undergraduates, with response rates ranging from 67 percent to 91 percent. Results of one-way analyses of variance for the 33 leisure interest items included on two or more administrations of the survey indicated statistically significant differences across years for 26 of the items. The largest decreases were for three reading-related activities, whereas the most dramatic recent changes were increases in electronically based activities. Implications for colleges and universities are discussed.


The last three decades of the 20th century was a period of tremendous change in colleges and universities in the United States. According to Brubacher and Rudy (1999), this period was one in which "American higher education found itself confronted by some of the most perplexing difficulties it had faced during the more than three and a half centuries of its existence" (p. 399). Research on college students during the 1970s and 1980s (e.g., Pascarella & Terenzini, 1991) described numerous aspects of the college student experience, the outcomes associated with particular types of experiences (e.g., contact with faculty), as well as differences among types of institutions and subgroups of students.

Based on results of the annual freshman survey of the Cooperative Institutional Research Program, Astin (1998) suggested that the late 1960s through the early 1970s and the decade starting at the end of the 1980s were periods of particularly significant changes in students' attitudes, expectations and activities. By the 1980s students were less engaged in social and political issues and community involvement, and more concerned with financial success and career interests. During the same period of time, major shifts occurred in attitudes and experiences in the United States. The book Bowling Alone (Putnam, 2000) suggests that the last three decades were ones in which adults participated less in a wide variety of activities ranging from playing cards, belonging to social groups, attending religious events, and participating in political activities. Changes in the interests and activities as adults are likely the result of earlier changes in the activities of college-age students.

Colleges and universities across the United States were criticized in national reports at the midpoint of the last three decades (e.g., Involvement in Learning; Study Group, 1984) for many aspects of undergraduate education (e.g., lack of student engagement with faculty and outdated undergraduate curricula), which led to numerous national and local initiatives to improve particular aspects of the undergraduate experience. Evidence from a study by Astin, Keup, and Lindholm (2002) of students enrolled in 117 institutions (i.e., 1985 freshmen followed up in 1989, and 1994 freshmen studied again in 1998) suggest that student-faculty interactions, student-student interactions and participation in community service increased, but that academic engagement and social activism decreased.

The last half of the 20th century was one in which predictions were made about probable changes in the United States, including changes in leisure time by the end of the century suggesting a "crisis in social evolution in the Unites States resulting from our inability to cope effectively with increasing amounts of leisure" (McKechnie, 1974, p. …

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