Catering to the millennial generation

August 31, 2010 | By Iris Eben

Generation expert and co-author of Millennials Go to College Neil Howe spoke to Georgia State administrators and educators last week about how the university can cater to the current generation of college students.

“Organize teaching around their learning needs,” said Howe. “Teach students not as you understand, rather how the student best understands it.”

Howe defines the current generation of college students as Millennials, born between 1982 and 2004. Although the media and Boomer generation parents promote this generation as the worst of all, Howe disagrees.

“There is no such thing as a good or bad generation,” he said.

According to Howe, the statistics tell a different story. Teen risk factors such as the abortion rate, teen pregnancy, alcohol abuse, substance abuse and smoking rates have all declined since the early 1980s, when the first Millennials were born. Youth crime has declined by 65 percent. The only teen risk factor to increase is obesity, a result of overprotection by Boomer parents, said Howe.

The childhood of a Millennial occurred during a child-friendly era of protection and structure.

Howe said inventions of the early 1980s, such as “baby on board” bumper stickers and the minivan, reflect this cultural mood. Monitoring of Halloween bags for poison became a common parental protection practice. The emergence of team-oriented extracurricular activities and participation awards became the new norm.

This generation is the most diverse and most tolerant of any generation, according to Howe. Forty percent are non-white and twenty percent have at least one immigrant parent.

In order for universities such as Georgia State to meet the educational needs of its students, having generational knowledge about the student body will ensure proper education, he said.

“You have to treat students as V.I.Ps. If you are smart, you will use self esteem boosting as a lever…This is a generation used to being told that they are special,” he said.

Millennials are all about community. The institution of live and learn communities in universities fulfill the need of students for a sense of togetherness, Howe said. The popular freshman learning communities and themed housing options at Georgia State reflect the desires of community-minded Millennials. The addition of cutting edge networking technology by universities should be instituted to reinforce social networking, he said.

Howe described Millennials as “feedback junkies” and emphasized proactivity by professors willing to establish mentorship relationships with students. He claims Millennials want professors who are active participants in their respective industries. This generation is more career-focused and want to see the practical application of their degrees. He made reference to a study that said 30 percent of college graduates will get their first job from the companies they interned with in college. Knowledge of soft skills such as how to shake hands, answer the phone and dress professionally is desired by Millennials, he said.

The Boomer parents of Millennials, according to Howe, cannot be left out. He suggests that universities form a partnership with parents in a way that has never been done before. The Boomer parents of Millennials, sometimes referred to as helicopter parents, are the biggest professional complaint of K-12 teachers. Therefore, universities must include parents in the educational process, rather than put them at a distance. Georgia State’s parent-student Incept orientations reflect this need by keeping parents involved and informed.

The only danger Howe fears for this generation is the need to always arrive at a consensus. He said that media professionals were often frustrated by interviews with students. Millennials always sought the opinions of friends before delivering an answer that ended up often in agreement with their peers.

“For my generation, the Boomers, the fear was having Big Brother put a camera in your room, with this generation they themselves put cameras in their own rooms,” he said.