A New Take on What Today’s Students Want From College

January 31, 2003 | By Jeffrey R. Young

Today’s college freshmen like to be sheltered and they trust authority figures to take care of them, according to a new book that promises to define the key traits of the latest generation of students, the Millennials, who first started entering colleges two years ago. Such attitudes could lead to a return of something like in loco parentis policies, under which colleges were expected to serve as surrogate parents and set strict rules for student behavior.

The book, Millennials Go to College, is designed for college administrators who want to figure out how to market to, and design programs for, incoming students, who no longer fit the stereotypes of Generation X. The book’s authors, Neil Howe, an economic-policy consultant, and William Strauss, director of the Capitol Steps, a Washington-based satirical-theater troupe, have long studied generational differences, and their latest book is a spinoff of their 2000 work, Millennials Rising: The Next Great Generation (Vintage Books).

“With the arrival of the Millennials, campus life is due for another transformation,” the authors write.

The authors say today’s incoming students are:

  • Close with their parents.
  • Focused on grades and performance.
  • Busy with extracurricular activities.
  • Eager to take part in community activities.
  • Savvy in technology.
  • Interested in mathematics and science, and less interested in the humanities.
  • Demanding of a secure, regulated environment.
  • Respectful of social conventions and institutions.

How can colleges adapt?

The book suggests that professors assign more group projects and use technology more in the classroom, but it advises against proselytizing. “Many of today’s collegians will bristle at professors who condescend to them, or who lay claim to greater personal authenticity, or who can’t set aside old crusades that young collegians may regard as simply irrelevant,” write Mr. Howe and Mr. Strauss.

Campus security is also a key concern for millennial students, many of whom became accustomed to metal detectors and a visible police presence in their high schools. “Security for the first time is being actively marketed by campuses,” said Mr. Howe, in an interview.

Colleges, he said, now need to market to both prospective students and their parents, who play a greater role than ever in college choice.

“Today’s kids get along better with their parents than any other generation that we’ve measured,” Mr. Howe said. “They respect their parents’ values—they even listen to their parents’ music. This has led to the emergence of what many marketers are calling ‘co-purchasing.’”

Parental involvement is causing headaches for some administrators, said Mr. Howe, because the parents will not hesitate to call and complain when something on campus is not to their liking. Mr. Howe calls them “helicopter parents, always hovering.”

The book will be co-published in February by the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers, and LifeCourse Associates, Mr. Howe’s consulting firm, and it can be ordered from the association’s Web site (http://www.aacrao.org).


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