Millennial Needs: The Key to a Millennial’s Heart

On a recent blog post on the Student Affair Collaborative, the conversation continued with the how to appropriately work with millennial students. When the first conversations arose, it was a much simpler conversation. Millennials are special, sheltered, etc. This was missing the context of how these students would actually show up when they reached the collegiate level.

So what are the key points from the article?

  • “Recognize us” – Not necessarily in award form but just acknowledgeable that the work is good and getting done.
  • “We are not a plague” – Drop the negative connotation and acknowledge that millennials are simply different from previous generations.
  • Uniqueness – There is not simple generalization of all millennials.
  • Independence – While many have trouble with taking initiative, millennials may need just a push to head in the right direction.
  • Focus on Group Work – Use the uniqueness to let them collaborate and gain motivation from each other.

These five elements really put the concept of millennials more into perspective. It is true that every student is different and each one has their own special needs. They have been discriminated against because of the concepts of safety helmets and every kid getting a participation trophy. This was not the experience for everyone and it was perpetuated by the parental generation overseeing the millennials’ experiences. With the world being more connected but more complex, it is also more technologically-focused and can make it difficult for millennials to feel confident about their interpersonal skills away from electronic communication.

We, as student affairs professionals, cannot ignore the qualities (good and challenging) that make up millennials, nor can we assume that we known everything we need to know. Just wait until the next generation gets here and we start making assumptions about them…

SA Collaborative Post:


The Three Types of Parents and the Importance of Partnership

After my first year back at my alma mater, I have been reflecting on some of my experiences with students and their parents. Particularly after a recent interaction with a parent after an orientation presentation, I was reminded of my classification system I created for parents:

  • Nonexistent: These parents are the ones that are barely (or not at all) involved in their children’s affairs. They provide little to no financial support and tend to avoid asking questions for their kids. Administrators interact with these parents the least.
  • Helicopter Parents: Probably the most common of the interactions, the millennial generation has included the rise of parents who want to have more significant involvement in their children’s lives. Financial, housing and even course selection are in the realm of arenas these parents like to get involved. Interactions with helicopter parents are generally amicable but these parents also have a tendency to hang around and continue to ask more questions.
  • Fighter Pilot Parents: A term that I came up with in order to capture their intensity, these parents are on the attack until they get what they want. While helicopter parents have been described as assertive in their pursuit of information, fighter pilot parents are much more aggressive in their attack and at times go beyond reason. Often times, they end up simply needing to vent about a situation they do not understand or agree with, but other times, they are persistent in their pursuit to force administrators or educators to adjust their policies or procedures for their child.

A parent I recently interacted with was one of these fighter pilot parents. She caught me after the information session to ask a question about the housing options for her daughter, who was accepted into a living-learning program. The mother was concerned with the location of the living-learning program in terms of its distance from the corresponding academic department, but she was also concerned with her daughter living on an all-female floor and missing out on a diverse floor community. While the concerns are understandable, the reality of the situation was that the living-learning program was placed where there was office space and a floor that could be dedicated, but the concept of a living-learning community is that it allows students engaging in similar experiences to both go to classes together and live in the same environment. While I attempted to explain this, the mother kept turning the conversation back around to a complaining fest. In an effort to give her the necessary information, I gave her the phone number for the assignments office, but she wanted to continue to complain about the location of the program and her options to get her daughter into a different living-learning program. In the end, several other parents who were waiting could not stay around long enough to ask their questions and the mother still walked away angry.

Working with parents requires patience and clear communication. One of the challenges of millennial students is that they have become accustomed to or have been raised to allow their parents to take a more active role in their lives. Since the students will not necessarily ask the questions themselves or manage their parents’ involvement, the parents are actually a way that we as administrators can covertly get their children to take responsibility. The case that I described above was one in which this fighter pilot parent could not be appeased, but most parents are willing to listen if you can give them answers. I purposely talk about how their children should call “x” office in order to provide their information and get the answer they are looking for. In the end, I am sure that many parents still make the calls or visit the offices themselves, but I know that some of them actually get their children involved in the process and potentially just relay the information so their children can take care of the issue themselves.

Student Stress & Emotional Health: Concern on the rise

In a recent posting in the Chronicle of Higher Education (, research has shown a decrease in student emotional health and an increase in students’ drive to succeed. The author points out that the two are related and many factors contribute to the correlation. It is clear that this is a concern we need to think about and see if there are ways to better improve our campus services to match the growing needs of our students.

With each generation comes a new set of problems. Millennial students are challenged by a number of different characteristics, including feeling special, sheltered, confident, pressured and achieving. Each one of these traits has its positives and negatives, but the combination of each of the challenges is taking its toll on many incoming first-year students and extending throughout their college career.

When you think about the combination of the traits special and achieving, there is this added focus that this nation’s youth is responsible for grabbing hold of their future and changing the world. Our current students are supposed to be up and coming politicians, business moguls, media personalities, environmental activists, educators and professionals. They are to take on many of the challenges that exist including a failing education system, international military programs, economic woes and a broken medical network. If those elements were not enough, they need to do this better than the current generation and fight their way going through schooling without the same financial resources that existed in year’s past (including economic stability of their parents).

The concept of being sheltered takes a different turn of pressures. Millennial students seem less prepared today for the more functional aspects of life than previous generations. When they get to college, it may be the first time they have ever lived away from home. This means it may be the first time they have ever cooked for themselves, done laundry, balanced a budget, gone shopping for needs versus wants, managed their own schedule and tried to meet new people in a new environment. Already confronted by the stresses of doing well in the academics and trying to enjoy their college experience, add these functional elements on top and it is no wonder that a number of students still rely on their parents to help manage tasks or even take over responsibilities like paying bills and selecting their classes.

Confidence would be seen as a positive going into a college environment, but what happens when the screen is lifted and students realize that they are in a sea of intelligence and talent? College may be the first time they have ever not been selected for a job, received anything less than an A or B in a class (or on a paper) or not been the most active student in their classes. Connected with issues of being high achieving and special, there is also a belief that they are going to automatically be better off than their parents. College can be a very eye-opening experience as students are both confronted by the talent and intellect around them and the real world issues that may affect their college experience directly or their prospects after graduation.

With these other traits posing their own issues, it is not surprising that students feel pressured. But is any of this really new? For the most part, many of these problems existed in the past. To issue for the current generation of students is that they feel like they are all hitting at once. While intelligence and pressure to succeed keep increasing, availability of resources to help students cope and effectiveness of preparation before entering college do not. Students are ill-prepared for the experience of college and tend to have more moments of failure or stumbling before getting it right. This may be necessary to an extent, but there are some barriers we have control over.

How do we affect change to support students better? Good habits and preparation need to take place during the high school year, but on college campuses it is the student affairs services that need to pick up the slack. Counseling and Wellness Services need to be prepared for both the quantity and severity of problems with which students bring to college. Residential Life departments need to make sure they have student staff that are ready to challenge the confidence of incoming students and help provide peer advising to help with the transition. Career Services tends to struggle with visibility and access for students, so for them it would be more about exposure around campus. There also could be more consideration for an introductory course for all entering students which helps to guide students through a number of these challenges they may face.

Higher education is not responsible for preventing these issues, but students are entering campuses with a number of challenges. It is up to use to find creative and innovative ways to help support them through these challenges in preparation for the world beyond the college grounds.