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Latest College Trend: Wanting to Be Wealthy

Tuesday, 23 Oct 2012 | 8:24 AM ET
Dave Bradley Photography | Getty Images

Forget Occupying. Today's college kids just want to be wealthy.

A new survey of freshman at Cornell University shows that 86 percent of them feel that being "financially well-off" is important or essential in life. That's a jump of more than 13 percent from last year.

Marin Clarkberg, director of Cornell's Institutional Research and Planning, said that the results were similar across 17 other universities that conducted a similar survey. She said all reported that the numbers for "financially well off" were up 10 percent or more from last year.

Rising student debt and high unemployment may be causing part of the shift toward financial reward. Courtney Loo, a Cornell freshman, told the Cornell Daily Sun that "I think so many people in my class ... value being financially well-off because they are looking to live a comfortable life without having to worry about debt."

She added that, during the crisis, "They saw how difficult it was for their parents to deal with financial issues."

We don't know, of course, whether the students have a more or less negative view of the wealthy given the current class wars. Just because they want more wealth for themselves doesn't mean they want to be like the wealthy.

Still, the survey shows that rather than shunning material comforts and financial gain, today's students are embracing it. Financial services remains the most popular post-graduate job category for Harvard grads, even though finance jobs are more scarce.

Some might say that today's top students are simply becoming more practical than idealistic. But with college costing more than $60,000 a year, paying down student debt is starting to seem more like an impossible ideal.

-By CNBC's Robert Frank
Follow Robert Frank on Twitter:
@robtfrank

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  • A reporter and editor, Robert Frank is a leading authority on the American wealthy for CNBC.