Home Newsletter The Way We Were; the Way They Are: Looking at Millennials
The Way We Were; the Way They Are: Looking at Millennials

Paula M. Knudson, Ph.D., Director of Student Life and First Year Experience

Can you imagine a scene played out as follows? Terry, a student in your 1xxx level course, shows up for class -well, most of the time, and proceeds to fall asleep - most of the time. For some reason, this student is only doing "C" work. Terry has never been to see you outside of class. One day you return to an urgent voice mail message from Terry's mother. She cannot understand why Terry is not being more successful in your class and would like you to return her long distance message as soon as possible.

The parents of today's students interact with college staff and faculty much more frequently and for reasons different from parents of previous generations." (Keppler, Mullendore, Carey, 2005) If this is our new reality, then how should we handle these types of exchanges. The answer in part lies in understanding the impetus behind this change. Most of you have heard of the Millennial Generation, which makes up our current traditional-aged college population. Approximately, these are children born between 1981 and 1999. Some of the characteristics of this generation include the following:

Special - This generation of children has been the most wanted. Every milestone in their lives was marked with celebration and praise. They may exude a sense of entitlement and have expectations of frequent positive feedback.

Sheltered -Millennial children have had their lives scheduled by parents concerned about their safety. Rarely left unsupervised, they were spared from unpleasant experiences. Because they often had their conflicts resolved for them, they may expect faculty and staff to resolve those problems for them.

Confident -More than three-fourths (78%) believe they will achieve their life goals. They are motivated, goal-oriented, and confident.

Team oriented -- Millennials say their top requirements at work are having idealistic and committed co-workers and doing work that helps others. They expect to be asked for input regarding decisions; they grew up being asked for advice about such things as buying computers and will expect the same deference at work. Preferring egalitarian leadership over hierarchies, they may put their own identity second. Therefore, providing opportunities to work in teams and to structure these opportunities by having students identify team ground rules can be effective.

Conventional - 92% of Millennials place "high value" on volunteer work. 96% plan to get married, at the average age of 26, with 91% hoping to have children -- 3 on the average. They consistently listed their parents as the "most admired" category, and honesty and integrity are the attributes Millenials admire most about a person.

Pressured -- A strong majority (75%) says that hard work is more important to achieving success than lucky breaks. They were tightly scheduled as children. They may struggle with handling free time and time management in general.

Achieving -88% have established specific goals for the next five years. Grade points are rising and crime is falling. The focus on getting good grades, hard work, and involvement is resulting in higher achievement levels. College is the key to a high paying job and success. On the job, 57% are willing to work more than 40 hours per week to reach their career goals. Yet only one third say that earning a high salary is an important part of their career, only one in four (26%) think high job prestige to be very important, and over 75%s do not agree that money buys happiness.

Teaching this past spring, I had the opportunity to ask my students how often they communicate with their parent(s). My unscientific outcome indicated that female students were in contact with a parent multiple times a day, and males, only slightly less. This is quite different from my college experience when I made my monthly phone call home.   After a few minutes my Dad would say, "This is costing me a pretty nickel, so I'll see you at Thanksgiving." When I informed him that I was paying for the call, he did stay on the line for a few more minutes. However, my point is that neither they nor I especially wanted or expected frequent or lengthy contact once I left home.

In our current culture, not only do the parents want to be involved in their young adult's life, but the young adult wants their involvement as well. There are those among us who consider this, at best, an intrusion to the educational rights that were won in the 60s and, at worst, the Armageddon of college student development as we know it. In my role, I've been able to interact with many parents as they send their children to UMD. I have to admit that there are moments when I have wanted to shout FERPA rights at the top of my lungs as I watch an overbearing, demanding parent lay out his/her expectations of me or the University. Yet by and large, I see the love, tenderness, and desire to protect that parents have for their children. Can these motivators really be so mistaken? By looking beneath the surface, I believe these parent motivators can be channeled to help reach our common goal of student learning and success.

Suggestions for working with parents:

  • Stay calm and try to listen to the intentions behind the words.
  • Acknowledge their love for and devotion to their child.
  • Instead of simply claiming FERPA rights, provide suggestions on how the parents can support their child through their education. They do not want to focus on the rules, so explain parameters, but include suggestions on what can be done, not just what cannot be discussed. Talk in general terms about how a similar situation might be handled.
  • It's our student, but their child. They want not to be blurred into a mere number, something they may have experienced as a college student. When talking to them, discuss their son/daughter or better yet - use their name.
  • Ask questions that provide information about their son/daughter that may be useful in your work with the student. Parents love to talk about their children. "What do you think your son/daughter needs?" What is typically the best approach to helping your son/daughter learn?" Acknowledge their understanding and concern for their son/daughter.

As we work with students and their families, we like to keep in mind the following quote.   "Confidently, with generosity and grace, most parents let their children grow up. But this truth is often swept aside by the notion that college is just one more commodity to be purchased. Their sense of entitlement as consumers, along with an inability to let go, leads some parents to want to manage all aspects of their child's lives."(Forbes, 2001)

At this point, UMD does not have an explicit policy regarding parental involvement. In lieu of such a policy, I'd like to share our office policy as it relates to working with parents/guardians/families.

Office of Student Life & First Year Experience Parent Philosophy :

The Office of Student Life & First Year Experience acknowledges the potentially significant role and importance of parents/guardians/families in the success of our students. We are committed to recognizing and responding to the concerns and suggestions of parents/families. This includes providing information to parents (within FERPA guidelines) and communication opportunities for parents about student learning, student development, UMD processes and resources, and strategies for parents/families to support their young adult's success.

We are all invested in helping students to be successful at UMD and in life. I believe that parents/families offer a new partnership in this objective and I am hopeful that as an institution we can dialogue on how best to bridge this partnership.


Coburn, K. L. & Treeger, M. L. (2003). Letting go: A parents' guide to today's college experience (4th Ed.). Bethesda, MD: Adler & Adler.

Coburn, K. L. & Treeger, M. L. (1988). Letting go: A parents' guide to today's college experience. Bethesda, MD: Adler & Adler.

Forbes, K. J. (2001, September/October). Students and their parents: Where do campuses fit in? About Campus, 6, 11-17.

Howe, N. & Strauss, W. (2000). Millennials rising: The next great generation. New York: Vintage Books

Johnson, H. E. (2004). Educating parents about college life. The Chronicle of Higher Education, 50(18), B11.

Published by NASPA - Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education   Edited by Keppler, K., Mullendore, R.H., and Carey, A. (2005). Partnering with the Parents of Today's College Students

Shapiro, J. R. (2002, August 22). Keeping parents off campus. The New York Times, p. 23.

Upcraft, M. L. & Farnsworth, W. M. (1984). Orientation programs and activities. In M. L. Upcraft (Ed.), Orienting students to college: New Directions for Student Services, No. 25, )p. 27-38). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Source for statistics - Kenneth Judd, president of The P3 Group, a productivity and performance training company in Colorado Springs, Co. He may be reached at p3group@earthlink.net

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