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19 December 2005

With Respect to Homer: Survey Shows College Students are Wired

By Angie A. Finley
Institutional Research and Assessment

The following is the first in a series of articles on student surveys/data slated to run early in the Spring Semester 2006. This initial article written by Angie Finley, of the JSU Institutional Research and Assessment Office, summarizes the Student Monitor Survey data.

They’re still feeling friendly towards a certain group of coffee shop sitcom pals, and they love studying Homer… Simpson, that is.

They are America’s college students, and they are tuned in, online, and more technologically savvy than ever, according to a recent Student Monitor Lifestyle and Media survey that took place last spring.

During the week of March 7, 2005, professional interviewers went one-on-one with 1,200 full-time, four-year undergraduates at 100 campuses nationwide. The campuses were stratified by size (number of enrolled students) and geographic location, in addition to their public/private status.

The survey covered the entire spectrum of student life, and revealed some interesting trends. Of particular interest:  students are eating out more (nine out of ten frequent a fast food joint weekly, with McDonald’s and Taco Bell being the most popular choices), they have more disposable income (an average of $180 discretionary money per month), and nearly 70 percent have friends serving in the war in Iraq. (Support for the war was lower, with 32 percent saying they agree that war was the right action).

Most obvious in the survey findings is the increased reliance on technology among college students. Ninety percent of the students surveyed own their own cell phone, and Verizon is the dominant cell provider. When they aren’t talking on their cell phones, students are surfing the Internet on their personal computers (88 percent of those surveyed said they own a PC), where last year they shopped to the tune of a whopping $3.2 billion, up from $2.3 billion the previous year. This record high in online spending was possible in part by the use of debit cards, as the ownership of them grew last year among students.

Spending an average of 15.1 hours weekly online, students said they use the Internet to check e-mail and grades and instant message their friends. Fifty-four percent said they use their school’s site to complete non-research class assignments, and look up assignments. Nearly half bank online and an equal number used the Internet for gaming. Thirty-four percent use a cable modem as opposed to dial-up connection, and 29 percent admitted that they downloaded unlicensed music or movies during the month prior to the survey. Thirty-nine percent believe that almost everyone does the same.

In other technological findings, 72 percent of the students now own a DVD player, and 38 percent own digital cameras. Many who don’t yet own a digital camera said they plan to purchase one within the next year, along with a new car. (Fords and Hondas are the top intended auto brands on the students’ wish lists).

For all the high-tech gadgets that lay claim to students’ time, the college-aged still find reading to be fundamental.  Thirty-two percent read a book weekly for pleasure, and nearly half said they read a national newspaper at least once a week, with the New York Times (21 percent) and USA Today (15 percent) being most popular. Three out of four students have read one of the last five issues of their college newspaper, and 45 percent read an entire magazine weekly. The top magazines were Cosmopolitan, People, Time, Sports Illustrated, and Maxim.

When they aren’t online, studying, or reading, students still enjoy “vegging” in front of the tube. Twenty three percent of them admitted that they watch 15 or more hours of television each week, and when they’re watching, chances are their sets are tuned to MTV, FOX, or Comedy Central. These three networks have been at the top of the survey since spring 1999.

Even though it is now in syndication, Friends continues to be the most popular television show among college females. Males tend to enjoy the Simpsons more. Popular with both genders were MTV’s Real World and Fox’s American Idol. Rounding out the network favorites was Comedy Central’s Chapelle Show. Campus media, too, is alive and well, and 30 percent said they watch their campus TV station. Eighty-seven percent listen to their campus radio station for an average of 10 hours weekly. They still prefer alternative rock and hip hop over other station formats.

With all the data collected on culture and lifestyle, where does school fit in? Apparently, most students stay close to home and have positive things to say about their college or university. Seventy-nine percent attend school in their home state, and 83 percent believe their school has met their expectations. Sixty-five percent went one step further and said they believe they’re getting a fair value. Library, internet resources and computing resources rate the highest value for the cost.

The survey also revealed that 60 percent of college students get money from home, averaging $278 monthly. Their annual personal earnings average $4,430, and their family’s average income is $90,600.

(About the survey: Since 1987, Ridgewood, NJ-based Student Monitor has continuously published the only nationally syndicated market research study of the college student market. For more information, visit the company’s Web site:

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