How Higher Education Is Outdated For The Millennial Generation

by Zach Gray

Let’s face it: Millennials are the greatest thing since sliced bread. You can’t read a blog, magazine or newspaper without being hit in the face with how influential Millennials have become in our society. And, the statistics are mind-blowing.

By 2025, Millennials will make up 75 percent of the workforce. Employers are focused on how to attract and retain them, and companies want to figure out how to sell to them.

But, why hasn’t higher education followed suit? Shouldn’t we expect the same from our colleges and universities?

Not long ago, I asked my father, who graduated from college in 1976, to tell me about his college experience. He described large lecture halls where professors introduced subject matter, and smaller recitation classes where teaching assistants met to review homework with students.

As he continued his description, I was surprised that nothing seemed very different from my own college experience.

Rather shocking, I thought, given that computing centers occupied entire floors back then; kids waited for the pay phone to be available in the dorm to call home; the Internet wasn’t even close to being invented, and the term “social media” had no meaning.

My dad’s world was totally different than mine, yet his college experience was eerily similar.

I (yes, I am a Millennial) grew up in a world with instant access to information. Millennials read 140-character tweets to get the latest news, watch six-second Vine clips for study breaks, check Instagram to see what pictures our friends posted and peek at Snapchat to see disappearing photos.

Our real-world environment plays a role in our learning styles and personalities. None of this existed 30 years ago. Times are changing, so one would think higher education should change with it.

It seems Millennials are after something different than recent generations. Sure, making our way to the top of the business world can be a good thing, but we want that to occur while making a social impact, and while doing something we feel is worthwhile and enjoyable.

A recent study showed that 64 percent of Millennials would rather make $40,000/year doing something they love, rather than making $100,000/year at a job that is boring. Work-life balance seems to be a thing of the past.

We see our business lives and our personal lives as one and the same. They both make up who we are, and because we’re doing something about which we’re passionate (hopefully), there is no clear start and end to the day.

We see our time as precious. We know life is short and we want to make a difference; we want to have an impact and we don’t want to wait.

Some companies, both large and small, have seemingly paid attention to these themes by being more flexible on work hours, allowing employees to work virtually and providing personal services at the office. Yet, education has been slow to change.

I know changing the higher education system is not an easy thing to do. And, I don’t have a tangible solution, but I believe that the dialogue must begin. What if students could have more control?

As a college sophomore, I probably don’t know what I want to do with the rest of with my life. I want my school to help guide me to figure out my purpose, but realize it is different from the person next to me.

What if students had less structure? I want to learn and I want to better myself, but too much structure can often get in the way.

Following textbooks page by page, doing repetitive homework exercises every night and determining grades by an intricate set of percentage calculations can all have a negative impact on my motivation.

What if I could see the difference I am making?

Lack of passion is not an issue with Millennials. Help me find my passion; nurture it, and let me make an impact using it. Make my classes more interactive, relate them to the world around me and help me find a way to apply this knowledge to do something good for our world.

The most important thing for us to consider as we explore options for change is to realize that everyone’s purpose and passion in life is different. Personalization, customization and balance is important for the future of education to ensure we reach our full potential.

We don’t necessarily see our paths as straight lines; we're okay with twists, turns and bumps in the road along the way. But, let’s develop an educational system that motivates, engages and challenges us, yet demands we interact and impact our world.

After all, the world expects us to be nimble and welcome change, so why can’t education do the same?