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Survey finds freshman class diverse, worried about economy

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The most frequently spoken native languages reported by UIC students whose first language is not English. The survey found a total of 52 different languages.

Illustration: Anna Dworzecka

It’s no surprise that UIC’s freshman class is diverse.

But what’s remarkable is just how diverse it is, says Patricia Inman, principal investigator of the 2011 Entering Student Survey.

Nearly 30 percent of survey respondents said English isn’t their first language. The follow-up question — what’s your native language? — got 52 different languages in answer.

“That’s just really remarkable,” said Inman, associate director of the Degree Progress Office. “We never would have guessed there were over 50 languages.”

More than 2,300 freshmen — about 74 percent of the entering class — completed the survey during summer orientation.

The survey asks questions that range from basic demographics to more thought-provoking ones, such as the likelihood that a student will change majors or be satisfied with the college experience.

“It’s very much a trends survey, providing a broader profile of our freshman class,” Inman said. “But it digs a little deeper.”

The survey has been distributed to freshmen since 2008, and the data sets have been similar each year, Inman said.

“It’s astonishing how similar students are across time, but we do see incremental changes,” she said. “As this has a longer lifetime on campus, we will be able to see more and more of the trends.”

Diversity among Asian students
Five Asian languages — Chinese, Korean, Gujarati, Tagalog and Vietnamese — were among the top 10 students reported as their native language.

Karen Su, director of the Asian American Resource and Cultural Center, said she isn’t surprised by the wide range of Asian American students on campus.

“We are a very diverse group, so in terms of identification, we’re very aware that sometimes it might make sense to students to have an ethnic-specific kind of identification — like Indian or Chinese. When they see the name of our center, sometimes there’s even a question in their mind as to whether they are part of the Asian American community,” she said.

Because the center serves such a diverse group, Su said, she makes sure to host speakers and performers from a variety of backgrounds.

“It’s very challenging because some groups feel more affinity to our center than others. We’re more aware of that, so we try to do more outreach and publicity and say what groups are included in the Asian American umbrella,” she said.

“We try to bring in speakers who have a sense of the pan Asian American community.”

Why UIC?
Students are asked to rank the reasons they chose UIC. Top choices rated as “very important” included “UIC graduates get good jobs,” “UIC has a good academic reputation,” “UIC has low tuition” and “UIC has a reputation for racial and ethic diversity.”

“UIC is an institution of choice,” Inman said.

“It is gratifying that a number of students come because of the racial and ethnic diversity of campus. They understand ‘who’ UIC is and the benefits of that.”

Economy a factor
One area that stood out in the results was the economy, Inman said.

Twenty-one percent of students said they had “major” concerns about their ability to pay for college, up from 17 percent in 2008.

Another 62 percent said they had at least “some” concerns about affording college.

“There’s an increased concern over finances,” she said.

The percentage of students who said they would live with their parents during the fall semester rose by 4 percent compared with 2008’s entering class.

In total, 47 percent said they would live in a campus residence hall while 45 percent said they would live at home and commute to campus.

Of the 3,500 students who live in campus residence halls, about 1,350 are freshmen, said Nick Ardinger, assistant director for marketing in campus housing.

Campus housing had a waiting list until about 2008, when the country’s economic recession began, Ardinger said, but it has 100 vacancies this year, he said.

“I think the economy is having a double-pronged effect — retention, where students may have been able to afford four years in the residence hall but now they have to move home after a year or two,” said Ardinger, co-investigator of the student survey.

“And you’ve got new students looking to save money because they live nearby and UIC doesn’t have a residency requirement.”

Still, freshmen who live in a residence hall have access to opportunities that commuters don’t, Ardinger said. They find it easier to form study groups and make friends with peers, meet faculty members and scholars who live in the residence halls — and they live close to class.

“Our whole mission is about providing students something they can’t get anywhere else,” he said.

“We are a big proponent of the UIC experience and recognizing that the success of one’s college experience involves all of one’s college experience.”


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