Interest in the psychology and education of gifted children has generated a substantial variety of programmatic and research endeavors. Some of these efforts have centered on procedures for identifying gifted individuals (Renzulli & Smith, 1977; Robinson, Roedell, & Jackson, 1979; Taylor, 1978). Many have been related to the area of teaching and curriculum for gifted students (Kaplan, 1979; Keating, 1976; Renzulli, 1976; Torrance, 1979; Treffinger, 1978). Others have dealt with special problems peculiar to the gifted population (Baldwin, Gear, & Lucito, 1978; Bernal, 1979; Frasier, 1979; Maker, 1977; Torrance, 1977). Nearly all of these contributions have emphasized the school experience of these exceptional students—an appropriate focus considering that education is the vehicle through which society makes its greatest investment in its youth.
In light of the interest that has been devoted to gifted students, it is disconcerting to note an apparent lack of concern for the fate of these children once they leave the educational system. While several previous studies (Barbe, 1954; Burks, Jensen, & Terman, 1930; Oden, 1968; Sears, P. & Barbee, 1977; Sears, R., 1977; Terman, 1925, 1959; Terman & Oden, 1947; Torrance, 1972) have provided a wealth of information about adults who were identified as gifted in their childhood, no comparable research has focused on a contemporary group. This gap in knowledge is of particular concern because of the tremendous societal changes that have occurred in the past decade and are thus not reflected in earlier studies. If, in fact, the goal of education is preparation for the future, educators must constantly update their knowledge about the population they presume to serve. How will educators know what issues are crucial to gifted education if they do not attend to the experiences of able youth as they progress toward adulthood? How will potential leaders, the so-called children of promise, be educated if the lives and experiences of those who have just begun to fulfill that promise are ignored?
In order to update information about gifted students, the postsecondary school development of a group of gifted young adults who graduated from high school in 1964-1968 was investigated. Data from this group were described and examined in terms of the degree to which the subjects as a group had fulfilled the potential demonstrated in earlier years.
SubjectsThe subjects of the present study were a representative sample of the 1964-1968 Presidential Scholars who were chosen as part of a national program to encourage and reward academic excellence in high school seniors. The 1964-1968 Presidential Scholars were selected from a pool of 14,000 candidates who scored in the top half of 1% on the 1963-1967 National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (NMSQT) in their respective states. Final eligibility for the award was determined by a presidentially appointed commission composed of approximately 10 private citizens. Criteria such as excellence on other available tests, outstanding recommendations of school officials, and quality of an autobiographical statement were also considered by the commission.
Approximately 120 Presidential Scholars (one male and one female from each state), plus 15 scholars at large, were selected annually. These 15 at-large appointments were awarded to special cases such as Americans living abroad, individuals attending private schools outside their states of residence, and other deserving students. A total of 604 individuals comprised the 1964-1968 Presidential Scholars.
Approximately 83% of the original Presidential Scholars were located and sent a questionnaire. From this group, 322 replies were received. This represents a return of 64% of the group located and 53% of the total group of Presidential Scholars. Based on information obtained from the NMSQT, a chi square analysis revealed that the sample of respondents (N = 322) was not statistically different from the nonrespondents (N = 282) on the following factors: geographic region, population of hometown, number of siblings, birth order, class rank, parent mortality, educational and occupational classification and status of parents, college choice, probable college major, classification and status of future occupation, secondary school achievement, and test scores.
Of the sample of respondents, 53% were male and 47% were female. Approximately 51% of the sample came from towns with a population of 50,000 or less. Many subjects came from small families; 29% had one sibling and 10% were only children. Of the total group, 62% were first born.
Over half (60%) of the subjects' fathers attended college and, of these, 44% earned advanced degrees. Of the total group of subjects' mothers, 73% attended college and, of these, 15% earned advanced degrees.
The majority of subjects (71%) planned to pursue careers in the professions. The most frequently reported occupations were scientist (15%), elementary and secondary school teacher (11%), college professor (9%), physician (8%), lawyer (5%), mathematician (5%), and engineer (4%).
The secondary school achievements of the 322 respondents were many and varied. They included inventing patentable devices, publishing and presenting original scientific research, writing and performing original plays or musical compositions, and participating in speech or science contests. The majority (77%) ranked first in their class. Approximately 18% of the total group participated in National Science Foundation summer programs. Many (26%) performed the lead role in high school or church plays. Over half (62%) held offices in student organizations. Approximately 51% received awards or special recognition for leadership.
QuestionnaireA questionnaire was designed to collect data about the current status of the 1964-1968 Presidential Scholars. The questionnaire consisted of 41 questions, including items similar to those in previous follow-up studies of gifted persons (Barbe, 1954; Terman & Oden, 1947; Torrance, 1972), Questions elicited information about marital and family status, ethnic background, religious and political preferences, educational history and honors, career development, and avocational pursuits. A checklist adapted from the NMSQT form was also included to obtain data about achievements such as inventions, publications, grants, awards, performances, and other accomplishments. Data were categorized and reported as percentages.
Demographic InformationAt the time of the survey, the subjects were living in all regions of the country with the greatest representation in the Northeast (23%), Far West (20%), and Middle Atlantic States (17%). The greatest proportion (32%) lived in metropolitan areas with populations of 1,000,000 or more.
Of the respondents, 92% were Caucasian. Approximately 41% identified themselves as Protestants, while 35% specified their religion as "none." In terms of political affiliation, over half of the sample (52%) were Democrats, while 21% specifically declared no political affiliation. In response to a question concerning political orientation, slightly over half (52%) claimed they were liberal.
Over half (56%) of the respondents were married at the time they responded to the study. Approximately 10% of the group were divorced and 33% were single.
A total of 73% of the respondents had no children. Of those who had offspring, 52% had one child and 42% had two children.
Educational InformationNearly all of the subjects (97%) received college degrees. The greatest percentage of respondents (60%) attended undergraduate institutions rated as highly selective (Astin, 1961) when the subjects were enrolled. In the total group there was an even distribution in undergraduate majors: 27% majored in the humanities, 22% in the social sciences, and 25% in the physical or biological sciences.
Approximately 61% of the total group had earned graduate degrees. The most frequently reported degrees were doctorate (23%) and master's degrees (21%). The graduate majors most frequently reported by these subjects were biological sciences (19%), humanities (16%), and law and political science (13%).
A total of 22% of the subjects were enrolled in graduate school at the time they responded to the study. Of these, approximately 62% were enrolled as full-time students. The most frequently mentioned majors for these students were the humanities (22%), law and political science (16%) and the social sciences (12%). Slightly over half (56%) of those reporting student status were pursuing doctorate degrees, while 22% were enrolled in master's degree programs. An additional 29% of the total group indicated plans to pursue further formal education.
The survey revealed that 89% of the respondents continued to earn honors in college. Approximately 9% received one award; another 9% received two awards; 47% received between four and six awards. Approximately 10% of the total group earned 10 or more awards while in college. These awards included membership in honorary societies, dean's list, scholarships and fellowships, prizes, leadership awards, and election to student office. Career Development Information
Approximately 23% of the respondents indicated that they had held one full-time position since graduating from high school, while 37% indicated that they had held two positions. At the time of the study, 76% of all subjects were employed in positions that scored in the 90-99 range of the status scale (Miller, 1964). The most frequently mentioned occupations were college professor (20%), physician (13%), and lawyer (9%). There was a slight tendency for more females than males to be employed in clerical positions or to be unemployed.
In terms of annual income, 24% of the total group were earning between $13,000 and $17,000 and 25% were earning $8,000 or less. More females than males listed their income at the lowest stratum ($8,000 or below) while more males reported incomes in the highest category ($33,000 and above).
Approximately 23% of the subjects had received awards or special recognition for the development of their careers outside of school. Among those listed were election to office in professional organizations, appointments to boards of directors and special commissions, monetary awards, fellowships, and specific professional honors.
Approximately 67% of the subjects reported no participation in organized activities. "Lack of time" and "no interest in being a joiner" were the most common explanations given. Sports, reading and writing, crafts, performing arts, and environmental activities were the most frequently cited hobbies and interests.
The most frequently mentioned achievements since high school included having suggestions adopted by superiors or coworkers (46%), publishing articles in scientific or professional journals (42%), conducting inservice training for coworkers (35%), presenting original papers to Scientific or professional societies (30%), and receiving research grants (27%). Approximately 25% reported achievements other than those specifically listed in the questionnaire, such as child rearing, organizing protest movements or strikes, church work, guest lectures or performances, travel, and inventions.
Implicit in any follow-up investigation is the question of how the subjects progressed in terms of the characteristics which determined their initial eligibility for the study. Since Presidential Scholars were selected on the basis of exceptional high school achievement, the central purpose of investigating the group was to determine whether they continued to exhibit outstanding achievement after having qualified for this prestigious award. Although it is difficult to judge the relative success of the 1964-1968 Presidential Scholars without the benefit of a comparison group, certain findings of the present study strongly indicate a high degree of postsecondary school achievement. Approximately 97% of the subjects were graduated from college and 64% attended highly selective schools. Similarly, 89% of the students received honors, prizes, awards, scholarships, and/or fellowships while in school. Other indications of sustained interest in academic attainment are the facts that 81% of the subjects earned degrees beyond the bachelor's and that 29% of the group planned to pursue further formal education.
The data concerning occupational achievement also indicate outstanding accomplishment. In terms of occupational classification and status, a majority of subjects chose professions that reflected a high level of education and intellectual ability. Further, the types of adult achievement most frequently reported (e.g., publications, presentations at professional meetings, research grants, staff training, and having their suggestions adopted by colleagues) reflect the subjects' persistence in striving for excellence and recognition in job-related endeavors. To the extent that prestigious occupational fields and certain types of achievement reflect success, it can be stated that the promise of this gifted group has begun to be fulfilled.
It might be expected that a great number of honors and awards would continue to accrue in a group that accomplished as much in high school and college as the 1964-1968 Presidential Scholars. Only 23% of the sample, however, reported receiving such recognition in their careers. One explanation for this relatively small percentage is that the subjects were still young and just beginning to reach the age of peak career achievement (Lehman, 1953). Another explanation is the lack of opportunity in society for recognition of able young persons at the beginning of their careers. This problem was described by one subject:
A third possible interpretation is related to the effects of the antiestablishment movement that occurred on many college campuses during the 1960's. Bennis (1970) and Tannenbaum (1972) have suggested that a trend exists among gifted young adults to devalue the legitimacy of awards for intellectual and educational attainment and to emphasize self-actualization instead. While many subjects in the present study reported still enjoying achievement and recognition, the preponderance of skepticism and negativism in their comments about these would seem to confirm this trend. The following quotation is representative of a majority of responses to the question concerning current attitudes toward achievement and recognition:
A final explanation of the movement away from external rewards could be a negative reaction to the excess of recognition given the subjects in their youth. Many subjects articulated their resentment of the pressure to achieve and the personal problems that resulted from being in the limelight. As one woman stated:
That some individuals continued to receive awards implies that, to a certain degree, the 1964-1968 Presidential Scholars fulfilled their promise with regard to this measure. Nevertheless, awards for achievement may not be an appropriate index since many of the Presidential Scholars felt that this form of recognition was irrelevant.
Although there were no statistically significant differences between the sexes on most gross measures of success, some dissimilarities were found in occupational status and income. The overrepresentation of women in the clerical and unemployed job categories and the pronounced discrepancy in the salaries of the male and female respondents might be attributed to the inequalities of opportunity or to the influence of sex role expectations. Another consideration, especially relevant to highly gifted women, could be the phenomenon that Homer (1970) called "the motive to avoid success." As one woman expressed this problem:
Although most females in the sample could not justifiably be labeled unsuccessful by any single criterion, the relative variability in their attainments might be attributed to the influence of this motive. The Women's Movement, however, was cited by many as a partial remedy to the problem. One woman stated specifically that she "would not have had the necessary courage to pursue my career without the support of other women." It is striking that no male subjects reported a similar need.
In summary, the sample of 1964-1968 Presidential Scholars is notable for academic accomplishments and high job status. The small difference between males and females in job classification and income may be due in part to the unequal opportunities and sex role expectations imposed by traditional societal constraints. Although it is difficult to generalize these results to other groups, it can be tentatively speculated that other gifted students, chosen by similar criteria, would also exhibit a high level of achievement in their postsecondary school development.
The study of the 1964-1968 Presidential Scholars generated many questions for further research. The need for a contemporary comparison group has been noted. Studies of sex differences, personality traits, motivational factors and societal influences are also indicated. Particularly compelling for educators would be an examination of the most significant learning experiences of this or other groups of gifted young adults. Further follow-up investigations of the 1964-1968 Presidential Scholars will contribute greatly to the understanding of giftedness as it is revealed over time in individuals, groups, and society.
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Copyright, 1981 by The Council for Exceptional Children. Reprinted with permission.
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