Talkin' 'Bout Their Generation

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Sara Kirkland, executive vice president for administration and planning, wonders, “If our understanding is that the educational process is helping students grow to independence, how do we take these issues into account and engage students and parents in the most productive way possible on behalf of the students?”

One way to accommodate these attitudinal shifts is to change the way you use technology to communicate with students. Susquehanna University, for example, now sends separate e-mails to the parents of prospective students as well as to their children (the parents actually read the e-mails more often than their offspring). The university’s new Web site currently under construction also will better inform parents. E-mail alerts will direct the parents to Web site information regarding what their children are experiencing throughout the academic year.

“It will keep everyone in the proper loop and hopefully allow our students to develop as they should,” says Deborah Stieffel, vice president for enrollment management. “Working through the parents, we’ll be able to help them work with their children instead of feeling that they have to call the president every time they have a question about something.”

Regan understands the parental urge to keep protecting their children. When she dropped her freshman son off at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., in the early 1990s, she was “horrified” by his roommate. “The college,” she recalls, “basically told me to go home and stop worrying about it. My son would work it out.”

Regan went home. But university presidents have told her that some parents hover around campus two weeks after delivering their children. Others move to the town where their child is attending college. “And if not that, they’re talking four times a day on their cell phones with their children,” she says.

Commenting on the phenomenon, Stieffel says, “I understand the parental bond, but I’m not going on job interviews with my children — as some parents do today.

“But it’s not for us to say whether or not parents and their Millennial children should be so attached to each other. We just have to understand it and communicate with students and their parents because we’re not going to change those bonds.”

Research, she notes, indicates that fully engaged parents enhance retention and engagement in the university for both students and their families, resulting in students who are more likely to remain in school and graduate.

 

OTHER KEY Millennial characteristics include:

A sense of entitlement: Baby Boomers believe in paying their dues. Millennials believe they are entitled immediately to anything they can get, whether it is downloadable music or copyrighted research. “Because of the closeness with their parents, they’ve also received a lot of affirmation in their lives,” Kirkland explains.

Diversity: Millennial students view themselves as the most cross-cultural, cross-creed and cross-color generation in U.S. history. As minorities become the emerging majority, students are seeking more diversified campuses — underscoring the importance of Susquehanna University’s commitment to becoming a more diverse, welcoming and inclusive community.

Networking: Accustomed to connecting online with people both near and far away, a significant majority of incoming Susquehanna freshmen use social networks such as Facebook and begin communicating with other incoming freshmen before on-campus orientation begins.

Technology: Aside from their relationship with their parents, probably the most defining characteristic of the Millennials is their embrace of round-the-clock technology. There has never been a more wired generation, and in an era when the amount of change in one day equals what our grandparents experienced in an entire year, the technological innovations are just beginning.

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