The number of college students planning to pursue teaching careers has climbed by two-thirds since 1982, while interest in engineering and computer-technology careers has dropped dramatically, according to a survey of freshmen released yesterday.
The survey of nearly 290,000 freshmen currently attending 562 colleges and universities also showed declining interest in nursing and medical careers, but business continued to gain popularity, with nearly one-fourth of the students planning to pursue business careers.
"What we're probably seeing is a reluctance on the part of young people to pursue highly rigorous courses of study in science and math," said Alexander W. Astin, an education professor at the University of California at Los Angeles and director of the study.
The increase in students planning to go into teaching, which rose from a low of 4.7 percent in 1982 to 8.1 percent last year, is "sufficient to say we've established a trend that teaching is returning as a more attractive career," Astin said.
The survey, sponsored by the American Council on Education and UCLA's Higher Education Research Institute, also reported a "profound shift" in student values, with three-fourths of the students saying that "being very well off financially" was a priority, while fewer than 40 percent gave priority to "developing a meaningful philosophy of life."
"It's telling us a lot about our society," Astin said. Young people are not asking existential questions "to the extent that they used to . . . . Becoming rich and famous has become a philosophy of life in itself," he said.
He attributed increased interest in teaching to political and news media attention to education, while the drop in nursing -- from 10.2 percent of freshman women in 1974 to 4 percent in 1987 -- can be attributed to the growing number of women entering traditionally male-dominated careers.
Interest in computer careers dropped from 8.8 percent in 1982 to 2.7 of the freshmen entering college last fall. In engineering, the number dropped from 12 percent in 1982 to 8.5 percent last year.
The survey also showed that freshmen tend to endorse liberal positions on such questions as abortion and defense spending but that 53 percent of students expressed support for laws that would prohibit homosexual relations, an increase over the last two years.