Academic journal article College and University

They've Never Taken A Swim and Thought about Jaws: Understanding the Millennial Generation

Academic journal article College and University

They've Never Taken A Swim and Thought about Jaws: Understanding the Millennial Generation

Article excerpt

They were born at the same time as Macs and PCs. Starbucks, voicemail, Bill Gates, and AIDS have always been a part of their lives. At rock concerts, they use the lights from their cell phones, not lighters or matches. They've never heard Howard Cosell call a game on ABC; Elton John has always been on easy listening stations; and Kurt Cobain's death was the day the music died. And the best part? Kermit the Frog is older than most of their parents.

Welcome to the Millennial Generation, those students who are even now entering the doors of higher education (and as you'll soon read, their parents are not far behind). Through the coming decade, this generation will transform colleges and universities as much as-if not more than-the Baby Boomers did, and they will do so in very different ways. Some colleges and universities will figure out this generation, respond, and "rise in reputation;" others will not. Some will tailor their services to meet the needs of this generation and in so doing will build lifelong connections to their alumni; others will not. Some will change their marketing approach to cater to this new generation; others will not (Howe and Strauss, 2003). The bottom line? Some will succeed; others will not. What will your institution do?

Generational Theory

Before reviewing who the Millennials are and how colleges and universities can respond, it's important to review the basic precepts of generational theory.

Generational research started with the Puritan generation that founded our nation. With a generation comprising roughly 20 years, Gen X is known as the 13th generation.

Basic to generational theory is that each generation is shaped by its own biography, where the biography comprises a series of events to which people with common birth years relate and around which they develop common beliefs and behaviors. It is these commonly held beliefs and behaviors that form the "personality" of that generation (Strauss and Howe 1991; Coomes and DeBard 2004). For example, ask any Silent Generation member where they were when Roosevelt died, and most can tell you, and most will share common perspectives about that event; the same is true for Baby

Boomers but with regard to when Kennedy was shot, and for Generation X in regard to the Challenger Disaster.

Feeding into the formation of different generations is the concept that the personality of a generation is cyclical. Thus, approximately every third generation will closely emulate the values and beliefs of three generations prior:

1 Each generation breaks with the generation nearest in age to them because that generation's style no longer functions well in the new era (for example, Millennials prefer to work in teams whereas Gen Xers are very independent);

2 Each generation wants to correct what it perceives to be the excesses of the current midlife generation (e.g., Boomers were active protesters whereas many Millennials are not politically active, nor are they likely to be so in the future); and

3 Each generation fills the social role being vacated by the departing elder generation (for example, the Millennials have a strong connection to the Silent Generation's upbeat and trusting attitude) (Coomes and DeBard 2004).

And hence, a generation is born.

A Word of Caution

Generational theory implies that everyone who is part of a generation holds the same beliefs, values, and attitudes. While the concept is good in theory, one must be cautious and not assume that all members of a generation fit the mold. In fact, generational theory states that the generational characteristics are generalizations according to which one can draw broad conclusions about the collective group but not necessarily about individuals within the group. For instance, if there is a large age gap between siblings - one that crosses generations - the younger sibling may relate with many of the events and values of the older brother or sister. …

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