Peers Influence College Student Political Views More Than Professors

Here’s an interesting piece of data to add to the heated debate of whether left-leaning professors are influencing the political and religious views of students. According to a report from UCLA’s Higher Education Research Institute, students are indeed moving further to the left when they come to college. However, this doesn’t have nearly as much to do with the students’ professors as it does with their peers. The opinions of peers are a bigger influence on students’ opinions than what their professors have to say.
Imagine that. Students are more influenced by what their friends say than what their teachers say. This definitely rings true with my experiences. As a professor, whenever I heard right-wing pundits bemoaning how left-wing teachers are all in the business of indoctrinating our youth, part of me always wondered, “What? Do they think our students are actually listening to us?”.
Okay, that’s an exaggeration. Students do listen to profs (most of the time, anyway), and professors do have an influence on how students view the world. But as much of an influence as their peers? I think not. And do professors have as much of an influence as a student’s own free will ability to read and learn about issues, listen to a lot of opinions (including the professor’s), and make up his or her own mind? Sheesh, the way some of the pundits talk, college students are big globs of putty waiting to be molded by whomever gets ahold of them. It doesn’t work that way. Students are young adults who are perfectly capable of forming their own opinions.
At any rate, this is an interesting study. It also shows that while students tend to move a little further to the left during college, they move a little further to the right after college. This is especially true for women.