Spring 2003 Survey: Activities Outside the Classroom
General Purpose | Major Findings | Interview Schedule

General Introduction
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General Purpose, Questions, and Sample

In spring 2001, David Brooks wrote a controversial article in The Atlantic that characterized students at elite colleges and universities today as candidates for “Future Workaholics of America.” Interviewing Princeton undergraduates, he concluded that they were very busy. Typically, their daily schedules were completely filled with goal-oriented activities: “crew practice at dawn, classes in the morning, resident-adviser duty, lunch, study groups, classes in the afternoon, tutoring disadvantaged kids in Trenton, a cappella practice, dinner, study, science lab, prayer session, hit the StairMaster, study a few hours more.” These “organization kids” were so occupied, moreover, that they found no time to read the newspaper, follow politics, or get involved in larger causes. At the same time, another widely read critique of American society, Robert Putnam’s book Bowling Alone, presented an alarming decline in Americans civic engagement. This disengagement was evidenced by declining political participation--for example, in voting, working for a political party, and attending a political rally or speech--and in declining memberships in organizations such as labor unions, parent-teacher associations, and fraternal societies. While Brooks and Putnam analyzed different populations and presented radically different perspectives and conclusions, they both emphasized the social significance of lifestyles: lifestyles reflect social values and determine the vibrancy of American civil society. Inspired by these two critiques, we focused the spring 2003 HCSS on students’ lifestyles, in particular, how they spend their time outside the classroom.’

Surveys of time use are generally unreliable. Therefore, rather than ask students how much time they devoted to various activities, we asked them whether they engaged in specific activities and how often they had done so within specified time frames--current semester, past month, past week. The questions asked students about the following:

  1. Work for pay, non-paid academic internships, and volunteer work.
  2. Membership in student groups and organizations and participation on intercollegiate, intramural, or club sport teams.
  3. Other social activities, including watching television and films, going to restaurants and bars off-campus, attending fine arts events, and attending off-campus parties.
  4. Mundane activities such as reading the newspaper, listening to music, working out at the gym, and using the Internet.
  5. Intellectual engagement outside the classroom such as discussing ideas from classes with others and reading academic books and articles not assigned in class.
  6. Satisfaction with various aspects of students’ lives--classes and coursework, leisure activities, friendships and social life, family life.
  7. Sense of community from family, friends, College community, organizations, and other areas.
  8. Importance assigned to various life goals.
  9. Uses of the Internet.
  10. Interest and participation in politics, trust in government, and trust in others.

Several national surveys were sources of ideas for questions: the GSS, the Roper Social and Political Trends surveys, the Pew Internet and American Life Project Survey, and the CIRP Freshman survey.

The spring 2003 survey was conducted simultaneously at Holy Cross and Clark University in Worcester. At the same time that students in Singleton’s social research methods class interviewed fellow students at Holy Cross, students from Professor Patty Ewick’s research methods class at Clark interviewed fellow Clark students. All interviews were carried out between March 11 and April 15. At Holy Cross, a sample of 210 respondents was randomly selected from the 2,585 Holy Cross students enrolled and on campus as of February 2003. At Clark, 307 students were randomly selected from an undergraduate population of 1,832. Both target populations excluded, in addition to those students enrolled in the methods courses, all students who were studying away or abroad or who had taken a leave of absence. The Holy Cross sampling frame, or list of the population, excluded study away or abroad students, but the Clark list did not; and so these Clark students were identified and excluded after sample selection. A total of 401 interviews were completed, 175 at Holy Cross and 226 at Clark, yielding respective response rates of 83 and 74 percent and an overall response rate of 78 percent. The margin of error is an estimated 8 percent for the Holy Cross survey and 7 percent for the Clark survey.

Below we highlight some of the findings from the Holy Cross survey and present a brief comparison of Holy Cross and Clark students. Among the 175 Holy Cross respondents, 58 percent were female, 91 percent were white, 97 percent ranged in age from 19 to 22, and 79 percent identified themselves as Catholics. Eighty percent of the respondents lived on campus. The percentage of students in each academic class ranged from 21 percent for fourth-year students to 31 percent for first-year students.

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