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An Overview Report for Alumni and Alumnae Respondents

February, 1989

H. Wesley Perkins, Ph.D.
Professor of Sociology

Department of Anthropology and Sociology
Hobart and William Smith Colleges, Geneva, NY 14456

Phone: (315) 781-3437 Fax: (315) 781-3718 E-mail:

I am finally getting back to you with general results from my Post-Collegiate Life Survey in which you were a participant. By no means have I forgotten you nor has the project been abandoned. In fact, thanks to all of you the project has been a great success in collecting information on the experiences and attitudes of our students in the post-collegiate years. My delay in reporting to you (especially for those among you who responded as early as the summer of 1987) simply reflects the length of time it took to track many of you down, the overwhelming response which translated into many months of codifying survey returns, and of course my other commitments to full-time teaching and chairing my Department over the last two years.

As you probably recall, you were sent a survey along with all other members of the Hobart and William Smith graduating classes of '79, '82, and '85 that was designed to anonymously explore your experiences and attitudes on a variety of topics. I sent out the survey and follow-up mailings over an eight month period from May of 1987 to January of 1988. Responses came back between June of 1987 and April of 1988. The final result was a total of 860 responses or 76% of all graduates in these classes, far surpassing even my most optimistic expectations! (Polls of college graduates usually get response rates of about 15 to 30 percent at best). I had hoped and was expecting the majority of graduates to take part, but to hear from over three-quarters of the members of your classes (with many of you writing extra comments about post-college life transitions) was, indeed, an exciting research experience. Furthermore, the group responding was quite respresentative of the classes overall in terms of such characteristics as gender, religion, social class backgrounds and academic majors. Thus I believe that for a variety of topics covered in the survey, we have a good picture of trends, diversity, and general patterns of post-collegiate, young adult life among recent William Smith and Hobart graduates. Given that a little over one year has gone by since this "snapshot" of your lives was taken, I'm sure that some of you will have moved into different family, work, and emotional stages as well as different as addresses. So some of the findings I report may not be the same for a particular class now (eg. the percentage married in any class is probably greater with a year having gone by) but this report will give you a good picture of some basic characteristics of your class a year ago. The Class of '85 might wish to "look ahead" at the Class of '82 which in turn may look to the Class of '79 in order to "see itself" a couple years in the future by seeing what the class ahead (seniors when you were first year students) is reporting.


Establishing and maintaining friendships is important for most people throughout adulthood. The peer oriented cultures of college life tend to erode, however, as the maintenance of good friendships--many established in college--becomes increasingly difficult with geographic mobility, growing time demands of careers, and expanding families. As one graduate comments, "College is fun--nonstop partying, hanging out with friends, going to sporting events, social affairs, fraternity parties, and yes, studying. But the real world is work, work, work, responsibilities, apartment rent, car payments, phone bills etc.....In college you usually have more close friends because you live, study, go to class, eat and party with the same people constantly. Once out of college, you spend 8-10 hrs./day with co-workers, then a few hours with roommates or family, then a few, maybe, with social friends." Indeed, while members of the recent class of 1985 reported spending between 8 and 9 nights per month socializing with friends, that figure shrunk to between 5 and 6 nights per month for the older graduates of 1979. Most alumni/ae reported that they currently had between 5 and 10 close friendships (the same average number for men and women). While about half said their number of close friends had not changed since college, about one-third indicated a decrease with only about 15% reporting an increase in friendships.

Certainly the difference between class cohorts in their remaining college friendships reveals the difficulty that some experience in holding on to old friends. While 78% of the class of '85 still maintained at least two close friendships from college, only 61% of the class of '82, and less than half (47%) of the class of '79 could say the same. With less than three years since graduation only 8% of the 1985 graduates retained no close college friends, but the percentage doubled (17%) for the 1982 graduates at over five years since graduation and reached approximately one-third (31%) for the 1979 graduates who were then over eight years beyond college. Many of the recent 1985 graduates (43%) had maintained a close relationship with a faculty member or administrator at the Colleges, but the percentage again declines to 17% for the class of 1979. The friendship losses over time are missed if the extra comments provided by two graduates are indicative of others. One states, "I appreciate my college years even more now than I did then (and I loved it then). It was certainly some of the best times of life. I certainly wish I had maintained some of these friendship ties more diligently." Another respondent adds, "In terms of college friends, I regret very much that I have lost contact with them."


Of course the growth of families among alumni/ae has overshadowed much of the friendship loss. Only 2% of all respondents were married at the time of graduation. That figure rose to 11% for 1985 graduates, 37% for 1982 graduates, and 60% for 1979 graduates. Thus while singlehood is still the norm for the more recent classes, by about 7 years out of college the balance shifts to marriage relationships. Accordingly, while only 2% of the '85 graduates had children at the time of the survey, 9% of the 1982 cohort and 30% of the 1979 cohort had become parents.

There have also been family death for some graduates since college: 37 respondents had lost fathers, 20 had lost mothers, and 10 had experienced the death of a sibling.

Health-Related Behavior Patterns

Smoking has declined somewhat since graduation among respondents. While 39% of the alumni/ae in these three classes smoked during their senior year (26% smoked daily), only 25% do so today (15% daily). The change since college in smoking was greater among women; they smoked more heavily than men in college but smoke at about the same rate as the men now. The reduction in smoking that has occurred primarily reflects decreases in smoking in recent years in general and not developmental changes that occur with aging. This point is reflected in the fact that in a simultaneous survey I conducted among undergraduates at Hobart and William Smith only 29% smoked and only 11% were smoking daily.

It is probably no surprise to most of you that alcohol consumption declines substantially during the post-college years. Gender differences that exist in college drinking norms remain however with men drinking much more heavily and experiencing greater negative consequences in post-collegiate life and alcohol abuse remains as a significant problem among graduates. Taking into account the amounts consumed in various contexts, intoxication rates, the frequency of negative consequences of consumption, and self-concern about one's drinking from survey responses, about 20-25% of the men and 5-10% of the women could be classified as problem drinkers. (A comment written in at the end of one survey: "Looks like I ought to take another look at my drinking.") Indeed, several alumni/ae included lengthy comments about their college and post-college struggles with alcoholism. About 10% say alcohol abuse has negatively affected their work. Among male respondents 22% have driven while intoxicated in the last 9 months (9% on more than one occasion); 9% of women report having driven while in toxicated during this time period (5% more than once). In general, alcohol problems do decline for most as they grow older--while 11% of the Class of 85 reported that alcohol had affected their work performance, the figure reduced to 9% for the Class of '82 and 7% for the Class of '79. For impaired driving the overall pattern was 16% of the Class of '85, 8% for the Class of '82, and 4% for the Class of '79.

Eating problems are a concern for a significant number of graduates: 17% of the women and 7% of the men indicated that they might possibly have an eating disorder. Forty-four percent of men and 57% of women were not satisfied with their body weight.

Two-thirds of alumni/ae were not satisfied with the amount of exercise they got each week. While the men averaged about six hours of exercise per week about one-third of them got less than one-half hour per day. Women averaged between 4 and 5 hours per week, but 45% got less than one-half hour per day. One person expressed how his other priorities preclude exercise: "It is quite difficult to find time for exercising in my profession. I work 50-70 hours/week. Of course I choose to do this because I am trying to earn a high income as wel as a high level of success in my company."

Personal Values

The previous quote raises questions about the role of personal values in our lives. In another section of the survey repondents were asked to prioritize six commonly held personal goals or pursuits--having close friends, being respected in one's community, raising children, earning a high income, achieving occupational prestige or success, and having a close marital realtionship. While the value priorities of post-graduate were diverse in the variety of patterns reported, marriage and friends were most consistently rated as relatively high priorities. In comparing the interests of men and women in the study, there were no appreciable differences in the relative importance placed on mariage, children, occupational prestige or community respect. Women clearly tended to value friendships more highly than men while men gave more relative importance to earning a high income. When asked about religious interests in another set of questions, alumni/ae overall reported increases in commitment to their faiths. While about 30% indicated that their faith commitment in college was relatively strong, about 45% are now reporting a relatively strong interest.

Although this limited survey could only touch upon common values, many of you commented about your concern for establishing a set of priorities for your lives and if nothing else, one respondent concluded: "This survey really made me think about my life goals. Thanks." Another remarked at the end: "This has made me realize how much I've changed since I've become a parent."

Pursuing Graduate Studies

At about two and one-half years since graduation 25% respondents form the class of 1985 were continuing their education with 20% pursuing an advanced degree and 5% having completed a masters degree. At five and one-half years out (1985 alumni/ae respondents), 33% had gone on to graduate studies--15% working on a degree, 16% having completed the masters, and another 2% having completed a doctorate or professional degree program. At seven and one-half years since graduation (1979 graduates), 41% had gone on in their academic studies--with 9% working on a degree, 18% having completed a masters degree program, and another 14% having completed a doctorate or professional degree.

Concluding Note

This summary has given you a only brief overview. Much of the research findings are yet to come in more detailed analyses of job experiences, family transitions, and personal stresses that may be related to friendships, health concerns, personal values, and one's own sense of well-being. I am also preparing another report on respondents' retospective assessments of their academic experiences at Hobart and William Smith as provided in the data that were collected in this survey. If you are interested in any more information from this study, simply send me a note and I'll be happy to send further results. If you have any thoughts or comments about post-collegiate life experiences that you would not mind sharing (anonymously if you wish but include your class year), jot them down and send them to me. Finally, I hope to continue this study with a follow-up on all of you in another year or two. If you have any questions you would like to see asked of your cohort, do not hesitate to send me your suggestions (some of you have already suggested that questions about drug use other than alcohol and about sexuality would be interesting to include). Whatever is your interest or concern for next time around, let me know (along with any change of address!).

Thanks once again for your participation.

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