You’d be hard pressed to watch television or peruse the Internet without being bombarded with something “millennial.” A term coined to loosely describe a generation of individuals born between 1983-2000, the word itself and the people it’s meant to represent have quickly morphed into one the most polarizing topics in popular culture today.
The negative connotations are hard to avoid, characterizing millennials as entitled and narcissistic, but regardless of your thoughts on the latest generation it’s hard to escape the fact that there are a lot of them. According to a 2015 U.S. Census Bureau report, the estimated number of U.S. millennials reached 83.1 million people — a figure that the Bureau reports now exceeds the notoriously vast Baby Boomer generation at 75.4 million.
As a whole, millennials are also more diverse than the generations that preceded them, with an estimated 44.2% being part of a minority race or ethnic group other than non-Hispanic, or single-race white. More significant still, millennials are digitally native, meaning they’ve grown up in a mobile age where devices were a core component of their early development.
As a new academic year is set to begin, it’s only fitting to take a look back at how universities have handled the wave of millennials. After all, virtually every student that sets foot on a campus today is one. And with any luck maybe we can glean some new perspective on the way millennials think and what makes them tick.
CR80News was delving into the millennial debate as early as 2009 with a piece entitled “Dealing with millennials and their ‘helicopter’ parents.” In the piece, our Andy Williams discussed the new-age student trend with Dr. Kristy Vienne, the then director of Bearkat OneCard Services and current Assistant Vice President for Student Services at Sam Houston State University. As part of a presentation given at that year’s NACCU Annual Conference, Vienne spoke about what the new generation of students expected from its university, and how the the card office specifically could help to manage these expectations.
Millennial students grew up in an environment where everyone wins. “They don’t keep score anymore. They want everybody to be equal. They win trophies for participation rather than for winning. As a result, they still feel everyone should get a prize,” Vienne says.
Parents of millennial students are also a factor, and Vienne recalls parents calling the university office — often bypassing the normal chain of authority — to seek resolutions to even the smallest of complaints.
“Parents expect to have a lot more say and demand much more input in their children’s education,” Vienne says. “Parents rush to prevent any harm or failure from befalling them or letting them learn from their own mistakes, sometimes even contrary to the children’s wishes.”
But universities can also use excessive parental involvement to their advantage by creating an open forum for parents to be involved proactively. “Get parents on your side,” she says.
For more on millennial traits and strategies that campus card offices can employ to more effectively interact with them, read our full “Dealing with millennials and their ‘helicopter’ parents.”