Confrontation and conflict are the favorite dispute resolution tools of Baby Boomers, who were born in the aftermath of WWII and grew up in the rebellious ‘60s. In stark contrast, members of the Millennial generation, born 1982-2003, bring a spirit of collaboration and consensus to solving any problem they encounter. A great example of what a difference this generational distinction can make is the cooperative spirit the parents at the LA Unified School District’s 24th Street school, most of whom are Millennials in their twenties or early thirties, used in resolving the dispute over the school’s future.
Located near the 10 freeway and Western Avenue in a predominantly Hispanic, hardscrabble neighborhood, the school appeared regularly on the District’s list of academic underperformers. Beyond poor learning outcomes, the parents at the school were upset by LAUSD’s apparent unwillingness to address major cleanliness and health issues and a tendency for the principal to use suspensions and a police presence as the way to enforce discipline. Before California’s Parent Trigger law gave parents the legal status to challenge incumbent administrators, the parents had organized a protest designed to remove the principal, but LAUSD failed to respond to their request.
So when organizers for the Parent Revolution non-profit that originally conceived of the Parent Trigger law contacted the school’s parents in May 2012, they found a group that was prepared to spend long hours in the grinding work of organizing their peers into a cohesive and unified force that LAUSD would have to deal with. The parents knocked on doors and handed out flyers at the school inviting mothers to come to a nearby park where they met every Thursday after dropping off their kids at school. The “parent union” leaders surveyed all the other parents to determine what they liked or didn’t like about the school and encouraged those interested to attend the Public School Choice programs LAUSD ran to learn more about school reform options. Dissatisfied with what the District’s processes, the parents who came to the park elected a steering committee that met every Monday morning to organize the Thursday discussions.
The discussions led to an emerging consensus on the changes the parents wanted to see at the school site. They wanted to make sure that children with special needs had the right level of support services and the restoration of the preschool Early Education Center the district had eliminated due to budget cuts. They demanded that dead animals and other health hazards, like non-functioning bathrooms, be fixed immediately. But the demand that brought about a real transformation of the conflict at the school and changed its culture in the most fundamental way was their insistence that everyone “play nice” together. They wanted LAUSD’s K-5 24th St. School and the Crown Prep charter school that ran a somewhat competing 5-8 charter school at the same site to embrace a spirit of collaboration to address the needs of the children, not necessarily their individual institutional interests.
On January 17, 2013, about nine months after they were first contacted by Parent Revolution, the parents submitted a “parent trigger” petition to LAUSD, asking that the school be reconstituted under the federal No School Left Behind law’s guidelines for underperforming schools. Unlike other instances in California when such a petition has been presented to a school district’s board, LAUSD, under the guidance of its reform minded superintendent, John Deasy, responded positively to their request. Eight Letters of Intent were presented to the parents from entities that wanted to take over its operations, including ones from Crown Prep and LAUSD.
The parents formed a committee, which met every day from 8:30 AM until 2:30 PM, to review these proposals. They presented all the ideas to the parents at the weekly Thursday meetings and asked each bidder to come to the park and talk to them. On the day of LAUSD’s presentation it rained continuously, but Superintendent John Deasy stayed to talk to the parents as the rain fell about how to find common ground.
Finally, the parents reached a consensus on how to restructure the school. They wanted to retain the college prep focus of the existing charter school, but they didn’t want an organization with little expertise in elementary education taking over K-4. So they asked LAUSD and Crown Prep to establish a collaboration on behalf of their children. If both entities would agree, a brand new LAUSD school with a new principal and new teachers would have responsibility for kindergarten through fourth grade on the campus and Crown Prep would have uncontested responsibility for grades 5-8. Parents wanted both organizations to agree in writing that children would be on a college readiness track when they went to high school and that both organizations would share professional development of the 24th St. School teachers to ensure a seamless environment on the two school campus, including coordination of schedules.
Then a miracle happened. The two competing bidders found a way to agree with the unprecedented request of the parents. They signed an addendum to their bids acceding to the parents’ wishes. The parents voted their approval on April 10, 2013, just about one year after their organizing activities had begun. A newly responsive LAUSD school board approved this innovative new concept one week later and parents became part of the committees that interviewed prospective principals and teachers for their school. The newly reconstituted school opened in the fall of 2013, with a new principal and a new set of teachers who, in the words of one of the parents, “have lots of new ideas and a strong desire to work on behalf of los niños.” The early education center is scheduled to reopen in January, 2015.
When it came time for LAUSD to decide whether to retain the services of Superintendent Deasy, one of the most eloquent speeches on his behalf was delivered by a parent from the 24th St. School who recalled that day in the rain in the park as evidence of Deasy’s commitment to the children of Los Angeles. A school board riven by differences in personality and policy was taught a lesson about how to work in a more collaborative way by the Millennial parents who had embodied this new spirit in everything they did. As Boomers age and fade from their current leadership roles, perhaps more institutions will find a way to embrace Millennial values and behaviors that have already brought “a smile instead of tears” to the faces of the children of the 24th St. school in the City of Angels.
Millennials: Economics of Higher Education
Video from Mike & Morley
Millennials’ student debt is depressing US economy. College
will become part of universal, free educational system
in America when Millennials run things.
Historically, “civic” generations like Millennials, have tended to emphasize distinctions between the sexes, while “idealist” generations, such as today’s Boomers, have advanced the cause of women’s rights. This includes the Transcendental generation that founded the feminist movement in the 1840s, the Missionary generation suffragists in the early twentieth century, and of course the Boomers who revitalized the women’s movement in the 1960s.
By comparison, as Neil Howe and William Strauss, the founders of generational theory point out, the eighteenth-century civic Republican generation, which included many of our Founding Fathers “associated ‘effeminacy’ with corruption and disruptive passion, ‘manliness’ with reason and disinterested virtue.” During World War II, as the men in the twentieth century civic GI generation went into the military, many women went to work in America’s factories, assuming jobs traditionally held by males. But at war’s end, willingly or unwillingly, most of Rosie the Riveter’s sisters returned to their traditional roles as wives and mothers.
By contrast, today’s Millennial women are refusing to accept any restrictions, based on their sex, on what they might be allowed to do and what they may be able to achieve. The result has been vastly improved educational and income opportunities for women and a greater demand for the ability to blend work with the rest of life’s responsibilities and pleasures from both sexes.
Although the civically oriented GI generation was notable for providing equal opportunities for women and men to attend high school, the Millennial Generation is the first in American history in which women are more likely to attend and graduate from college and professional school than are men. In 2006, nearly 58 percent of college students were women. By 2016, women are projected to earn 64 percent of associate’s degrees, 60 percent of bachelor’s degrees, 63 percent of master’s degrees, and 56 percent of doctorates. These achievements have produced a generation of self-confident women who, unlike many of their Boomer mothers and grandmothers, do not see themselves in conflict or competition with men.
All of this has led some male Millennials to rethink the entire concept of masculinity. It’s becoming increasingly clear, for instance, that male Millennials will take greater advantage of paternity-leave opportunities to bond with their newborn children and support the mothers of those children, when they become fathers. Remarkably, in sharp distinction to the usual partisan rancor these days, polls show that majorities of Republicans (62%), Democrats (92%), and independents (71%) now support the idea of paid paternity leave. The federal budget already includes money to help states start paternity-leave programs. Under pressure from the growing presence of Millennials in the electorate, a paid paternity and maternity leave program is likely to become an employee-funded federal insurance program, similar to Social Security, which could be financed by a small payroll tax increase of about three-tenths of one percent.
The biggest changes for American men will come as Millennials become the predominant generation in the workplace. Economic necessity will force young men to train for and work in a range of careers, such as nursing and teaching, that have previously been seen as women’s work. As the blurring of occupational gender distinctions becomes commonplace, Millennials will demand that employers provide opportunities for more work-life blending. With both parents equally involved in career and family, employers who wish to attract top talent will have no other choice but to accommodate the generation’s demand for such things as telecommuting, flexible hours, and child care. Politicians who support policies designed to encourage the provision of such benefits will receive a positive reception from their Millennial constituents.
The result will be a new national consensus on what it means to be a man or a woman and a new respect for the full participation of both sexes in all aspects of American family life.
Millennials' Belief in Gender Equality
Biggest Cultural Shift of All
Video from Mike & Morley
Millennials firm belief in gender neutrality in roles and
responsibilities will have the most profound effect on culture
of all the generation's beliefs.
For centuries, explorers searched for the legendary golden city of El Dorado, seeking instant wealth in the jungles of South America. But today’s treasure trove may be found much closer to home; cities like El Dorado, Arkansas, for example, that have successfully linked their economic development strategy to improving the educational attainment of their residents.
El Dorado, a city of about 20,000 people that was at the heart of Arkansas’s oil boom in the 1920s has been hard pressed to reprise that economic growth experience in this century. Instead of chasing after the fool’s gold of becoming cool, it has found a way to attract new residents and increase its economic vitality by promising its public school students a free college education if they graduate from high school with good grades. That promise has the potential to provide the critical glue in holding together a broad based economic recovery not just for cities such as El Dorado but for entire states or even the country.
The El Dorado Promise is a scholarship program established and funded by Murphy Oil Corporation, the town’s largest employer. Modeled after a similar program in Kalamazoo, MI, It provides graduates of the city’s high school a scholarship covering tuition and mandatory fees that can be used at any accredited two- or four-year, public or private, educational institution in the US up to an amount equal to the highest annual resident tuition at an Arkansas public university.
Since its inception in 2007, 1239 students have taken advantage of the offer. Over 90% of them have completed at least one year of college. The first high school class to enjoy this benefit has graduated after five years from college at a rate almost 40% greater than the state’s higher education student population. These gains in acquiring the skills necessary to be competitive in today’s global economy have been achieved by virtually all of the city’s high school students, over 90% of whom graduated from high school last year.
Furthermore the culture of a college-bound student population is now permeating throughout the school district, with a recent study finding that students in grades three through eight in the city scored significantly higher than their matched peers in nearby school districts in both math and literacy. The greatest gains have come from those who were the youngest when the Promise was announced.
The goal of the El Dorado Promise was not just greater educational attainment, however. The visionaries who established the program also wanted to use this program to improve the community’s economic vitality and quality of life. They have clearly done that. Enrollment in the city’s schools was up 5% in just the first four years of the program’s existence. As the Promise website says, “the prospect of an increasingly educated workforce gives economic development leaders new tools to attract businesses to the region.”
The first such Promise was made in Kalamazoo, Michigan in 2005 by still anonymous benefactors seeking to restore the reputation of a city made famous in 1942 by the Glenn Miller Orchestra’s hit tune about a “gal” who lived there. Rather than raise taxes to balance the city’s budget, those who established the Kalamazoo Promise offered a fully paid four-year scholarship to any public institution of higher education in Michigan to any student who went to the city’s high schools for all four years. Under the terms of the Kalamazoo Promise, students have no obligation to repay the money or even to reside in Kalamazoo after they graduate from college.
The results are very similar to those of El Dorado. Kalamazoo’s student population is up 17.6% and dropout rates have been cut in half. Ninety percent of the city’s female African-American high school graduates have gone on to college. On the economic front, the proportion of residential construction in the city rose sharply from around 30% to nearly 50% of all permits issued in the greater Kalamazoo area. The community’s careful tracking of the results has identified 1600 families who say they are living in the city because of the Promise.
The economic challenges that caused El Dorado and Kalamazoo to up their game in getting local residents to graduate from high school and go on to college are no different than the challenge facing the country as a whole in trying to create a competitive workforce in today’s increasingly global and technology driven economy. For example, the Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce estimates that 62% of the jobs in the United States by the year 2018 will require at least some college education – for example a certificate for a specific skill – and that more than half of those jobs will require a bachelor’s degree. Unless the nation wants to fill those jobs with immigrants from other countries, it will have to do a much better job of giving each American who graduates from high school a chance to pursue a two year skill certificate or a baccalaureate degree.
A promise that rewards good academic performance in high school with a scholarship that pays for four years of college tuition has demonstrated it can make a major difference in achieving our educational and economic goals. Now it’s time for the rest of the country to find the gold that Kalamazoo and El Dorado have already discovered. Just as the country, as part of its overall economic development strategy, once expanded access to a universal free education first for primary schools and later for high schools, it must now find ways to make these two pioneering cities’ promise to their young people America’s Promise to all of its youth.
Also Published at
Millennials: Economics of Higher Education
Video from Mike & Morley
Millennials’ student debt is depressing US economy. College
will become part of universal, free educational system
in America when Millennials run things.
The most decisive force in national politics today is the millennial generation (born 1982-2003). Millennials re-elected Barack Obama and will represent more than one out of every three adult Americans by the end of this decade. Yet, more than six months after the 2012 elections, Congress has moved fitfully, if at all, to address this generation’s political agenda.
The most promising effort in the current session of Congress to address millennials’ concerns was the bipartisan effort in the Senate that secured passage of a comprehensive, if somewhat overblown, immigration reform bill. Forty percent (40%) of millennials are non-white and Mitt Romney’s ostrich-like approach to this issue helped motivate Hispanic and Asian-American millennials to vote overwhelmingly for the president. Still, in spite of this lesson, two-thirds of the Senate Republican caucus voted against the immigration reform bill. The Republican House is even more hostile to the idea, even with their professed bête noire of border security addressed with massive new funding for enforcement in the just passed Senate bill. GOP opposition to the bill is so entrenched that House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has promised to not even bring it to a vote.
Millennials are a tolerant bunch and this continuing display of intolerance by congressional Republicans bodes particularly ill for the GOP’s chances of attracting the generation’s votes in the future. Tea Party-inspired efforts to pass a mean spirited, rather than a means tested, approach to food stamps, helped to doom the bi-partisan Senate version of the farm bill in the House as well. That same body did find the time and the votes to pass, for the 37th time, an irrelevant repeal of the Affordable Care Act, even though the passage of Obamacare was another key reason why millennials supported its namesake last November.
But probably the vote that was most out of touch with millennial attitudes and beliefs was the vote this month in the House to further limit abortion rights in this country. Perhaps the Republicans who forced that vote upon their colleagues missed Sandra Fluke’s spirited defense of women’s reproductive rights at the 2012 Democratic National Convention that resonated so positively with the Millennial women, two-thirds of whom voted for Barack Obama last year.
The failure of the current crop of older members of Congress to address the concerns of the millennial generation is not limited, however, to Republicans. The Democratic leadership in the Senate didn’t feel sufficient urgency, for instance, to prevent the interest rate on student loans to double before Congress adjourned for the July 4 holiday. Can anyone imagine them taking the same lackadaisical attitude if Social Security benefits were about to be cut? Even had the student loan issue been addressed in a timely manner, it still would not have dealt with the incredible burden of student debt, now over a trillion dollars, that is preventing many millennials from doing the things that young adults traditionally do, like starting a family or buying a house, that would contribute mightily to the nation’s economic recovery. The problem, however, goes ignored by members of both parties in both houses, most of whom were never asked, as millennials have been, to self-finance the education they and the country need to promote economic growth.
Congress is so out of touch with the beliefs and concerns of millennials that even the nine old men and women on the Supreme Court did a better job of addressing the generation’s agenda in their last session when the Justices declared the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional.
There have been other times in America’s history when Congress has stubbornly refused to deal with the needs of the nation’s newest generations. In 1868, one-third of a generation very much like today’s Boomers, the Transcendentalists, were booted from their congressional seats in favor of candidates from a younger, more modern generation. It was the largest generational landslide in the nation’s history — until now. If the current Congress continues to ignore Millennials, it risks suffering the very same fate — an outcome for which it will have only itself to blame.
A remarkable, but mostly unnoticed, 2012 study found a powerful correlation between a community’s civic health and its economic well being. The analysis by the National Conference on Citizenship (NCoC) and its partners found that the density of non-profits whose purpose was to encourage their members’ participation within the community correlated strongly with the ability of a locality to withstand the effects of the Great Recession. The same analysis revealed that those municipalities having the greatest amount of “social cohesion,” defined as “interacting frequently with friends, family members, and neighbors,” also showed greater resilience in ameliorating job losses during economic downturns, independent of the density of their non-profit sector.
The numbers are startling. States with high social cohesion had unemployment rates two percentage points lower than their less connected counterparts, even controlling for demographics and economic factors. A county with just one additional nonprofit per 1,000 people in 2005 had half a percentage point less unemployment in 2009. And for individuals who held jobs in 2008, the odds of becoming unemployed were cut in half if they lived in a community with many nonprofit organizations rather than one with only a few, even if the two communities were otherwise similar. Given these results, every community interested in improving its economic vitality should be devising strategies to increase the civic health of their locality.
One way to accomplish this goal is to attract members of the hyper-connected but locally-focused Millennial Generation (born 1982-2003). People in their thirties—a group Millennials are just entering but will soon dominate—and early forties, the age when people are building families and careers, constitute the essential social ballast for any community, city or suburb. For the rest of this decade as well as the next, Millennials will comprise the cohort entering this key phase of life, contributing both economic stimulus and a new sense of community wherever they choose to live. Fortuitously, the same organization (NCoC) that produced the original report has just released a new study suggesting several strategies cities could use to attract America’s most community-oriented generation.
According to this year’s study, more densely populated communities face a major challenge in attracting civic-oriented Millennials. This is contrary to much of the conventional wisdom about both millennials and “community.” It found that members of the generation who reside in denser urban communities are less likely to engage in the type of service activities that nonprofits are designed to encourage. Except in the South, Millennials living in suburbia or more rural settings were more likely to engage in service activities with their peers than their urban counterparts. In fact, the worst community participation rates by far were found among Millennials in the country’s Northeastern cities.
A recent analysis by demographer Wendell Cox of Millennial living patterns validated these findings. He found that those major metropolitan areas with the least density gained the lion’s share of increases in populations of 25 to 34-year-olds in the first decade of this century. Another, as yet unpublished study by Cox, has found that the same holds true for 20 to 24-year-olds.
To fix that problem and increase their economic resiliency, more densely populated communities should actively encourage the formation of military veteran’s groups and other nonprofits that foster citizen participation and leadership skills. Other types of nonprofits that the earlier NCoC study suggested would help improve a city’s civic and economic vitality are sports clubs, labor unions and those that offer job-training opportunities. By providing such nonprofits with the space and resources to attract and engage America’s largest and most diverse generation, communities can gain the economic benefits that service organizations, such as Kiwanis and the Elks, brought to their communities in the past.
A recent review of the seven best cities for Millennials to obtain an initial foothold for their economic future placed greater Seattle at the top of the list. It was followed by Dallas; Minneapolis; Athens, Georgia; Ithaca, New York; Oklahoma City; and Phoenix. Most of these communities combine relatively lower levels of density with lower rates of unemployment making them especially attractive to Millennials.
One way for denser urban centers to compete with such localities is to gain a broad mix of educational attainment among their younger populations, thereby increasing their social cohesion and, ultimately, economic resiliency. This is because Millennials without a high school diploma are least likely to trust their neighbors but most likely to help those very same neighbors on a regular basis. Meanwhile, Millennials who attend college become more trusting of their neighbors wherever they end up settling, but less likely to help them out. In order to build both a trusting community and one where friends and neighbors help each other out, communities need to provide a broad range of jobs requiring various levels of education and encourage Millennials to stay in the place where they grew up or return there upon graduation.
Communities interested in enhancing their social cohesion should take a close look at the example set by the civic leaders of Kalamazoo, Michigan. Under its Kalamazoo Promise program, families that enroll their children in the local school district get help with college tuition on a sliding scale based on how many grades of education the child completes in the city’s schools. The strategy, which has led to greater demand for housing within the school district’s boundaries as well, encourages the development of a community with a wide range of educational success among its residents.
The most recent study also found that once Millennials complete their schooling and begin to settle down their civic engagement increases. In fact, those 29 and under who are married and have children are more likely than those over thirty who do not have a family to participate in activities, such as helping neighbors, that in turn lead to greater social cohesion.
One strategy for encouraging college educated Millennials to settle in the community where they grew up, may lie with making the cost of college locally more affordable. For example, in contrast to many states that are shortsightedly reducing their subsidies of in state tuition, North Dakota issuing some of its increased tax revenue from the state’s explosion in energy production to limit tuition increases for their residents and increasing the amount of needs-based tuition aid and scholarships for those who decide to attend any college in the state.
Building better communities requires encouraging the human interaction and connectivity that make a municipality more resilient in times of economic difficulty. Building this type of social capital comes naturally to Millennials, the nation’s most connected generation. Non-profits that attract younger people should be actively encouraged to set up shop in cities and localities across the country. Programs that support educational attainment and employment opportunities for Millennials should be viewed as another essential element of economic strategy. Today, community’s economic health is inextricably intertwined with the type of civic vitality that local Millennials can generate.
Baby boomers, growing up in what appeared to be the never-ending prosperity of the 1950s and '60s, were at various times amused, mystified, and infuriated by the economic caution of their GI or Greatest Generation mothers and fathers, often labeling the penny-pinching of their parents “Depression mentality.”
Now, a half-century later, many of those same boomers, perhaps with a greater degree of understanding this time, are watching their own "millennial-generation" offspring (born from 1982 to 2003) develop the same habits of frugality and restraint that the millennials’ great-grandparents did in the 1930s and '40s. This change in attitude and behavior will impact America’s consumer spending and the way businesses and advertisers will need to approach their customers for decades to come.
The notion that millennials are willing to curb their spending might surprise some who have said the generation is self-centered and entitled, but it shouldn’t. The reasons for millennials' financial prudence are clear: Like the GI generation, millennials grew up in a time of relative prosperity, only to face a major economic downturn just as they were emerging into adulthood and the workforce.
Throughout the Great Recession that began in 2008, youth unemployment was almost
always nearly double that for the entire adult population. In January, when the nation’s unemployment rate was 7.9 percent, it was above 13 percent for those 16 to 30 years old.
In addition, millennials are not only the most highly educated generation in U.S. history, but also the generation with the most-ever student debt. A 2010 Pew report on America’s generations indicates that a majority (54 percent) of millennials had attended college, the first generation to have done that. Unfortunately, college costs and the loans millennials have assumed to pay those costs have risen sharply as well. In 2011, college seniors graduated with an average loan debt of $26,600, up 5 percent from just a year earlier.
As a February Pew report indicates, factors like these have shaped the consumer and financial behavior of millennials across a range of areas, from where they live, to how they travel and how they spend:
Where Millennials Live
More than a few observers have labeled millennials a generation exhibiting an extreme unwillingness to “launch” into full-fledged adulthood. One major reason for this is the economic pain visited upon the generation by the Great Recession. As many as three in 10 people ages 25-34 reported still living with their parents in 2011, something that might have benefitted both millennials and their parents from an economic and cultural perspective but still stigmatized many in this generation among older adults.
Even when millennials have been able and willing to strike out on their own, they have frequently rented rather than purchased their homes, causing some to label them “Generation Rent,” a designation first used in Great Britain, but one that seems to apply to many young Americans as well. As a result of remaining with their parents or renting, according to Pew, homeownership among 25- to 34-year-olds fell from 38 percent in 2001 and 40 percent in 2007 (years when virtually all in that age range were members of Generation X) to 34 percent in 2010.
This is not likely to be the final word on the subject; a 2010 Pew survey of millennials showed that they ranked homeownership behind only being a good parent and having a good marriage as an important value. But when millennials do move toward homeownership in overwhelming numbers, because of their “recession mentality” they are likely to be more cautious about the size and cost of their home and the type of mortgages to which they commit than previous generations have been.
How Millennials Get Around
As illustrated in the 1973 classic film, American Graffiti, at least since the time that today’s senior citizens were teenagers, obtaining a driver’s license and eventually a car and then cruising the city or hitting the highway has been a romantic rite of passage for young Americans. Millennials have become the first generation since the GI Generation for which this is no longer clearly the case. Between 2001 and 2009, young people reduced their average driving per year from about 10,250 miles to around 7,900 miles, a decline of about 23 percent. Economics is certainly a part of it: According to Pew, 73 percent of households headed by an adult younger than 25 owned or leased a vehicle.
By 2011, that number had fallen to 66 percent. As a result, among the households of those under 35, the percentage with outstanding vehicle debt declined from 44 percent to 32 percent between 2007 and 2010. But financial reasons are not the only ones explaining the decline of the car culture among millennials. Car Connection, a publication focusing on automotive research, points to changes in communication technology (the millennials’ preference for social networking lessens the need for face-to-face contact), location (millennials increasingly living in urban and suburban areas where cars are not as necessary to get around) and “eco-friendliness” (millennials are the most environmentally conscious generation) as reasons why millennials drive less than older generations did when those cohorts were the age that millennials are now.
All of this suggests that in the years ahead auto manufacturers and advertisers will have to focus on the values that millennials will bring with them when they buy cars—a desire for high-tech, environmentally friendly, cost-efficient autos that can be customized to the individual preferences of the owner to the greatest extent possible.
How Millennials Buy
In perhaps no other way have millennials imitated their GI Generation great-grandparents financially more than in their attitude toward accumulating debt (other than the student loans that have been forced upon them just to go to college). Pew research shows that the number of young households carrying a credit-card balance has dropped from 50 percent in 2001 and 48 percent in 2007 to only 39 percent in 2010. During that same period, the average credit-card debt declined from $2,500 to $1,700 among those households. As a result, the debt-to-income ratio (outstanding debt compared to annual income) has fallen from 1.63 in 2007 to 1.46 in 2010 within the households of 25- to 34-year-olds. By contrast, among older households it continued to rise slightly during those years (from 1.08 to 1.22). This suggests that for many millennials conspicuous consumption may be a thing of the past. Members of the generation are likely to carefully plan their consumption, avoiding credit whenever possible, buying only those things they truly believe they need, and seeking the best possible value for the things they do purchase.
John Gerzema and Michael D’Antonio, in their 2010 book, Spend Shift, described how, in the “post crisis” world, consumers would seek products and services that provide both “value and values.”) The millennial generation is driving this change. Businesses and advertisers would be wise to follow where millennials are leading.
Millennials (born 1982-2003) are convinced that college is the ticket to a better life.
Consider these statistics:
- Ninety percent of high school students say they want additional education after they graduate,
- And two-thirds enroll in a two- or four-year college within a year of completing high school.
- Including trade schools, 60 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds are now seeking a credential of some type, the highest percentage in history.
In today’s global economy, the country’s economic success depends on students acquiring the skills that come with the completion of two- or four-year college programs.
And, unfortunately for the nation, the percentage of students who actually graduate from college has been stagnant for the last 30 years.
More than a quarter of this year’s college freshmen will not return for a second year. Half of those enrolling in two-year college programs won’t be back for their final year either.
A recent study by CompleteCollege.org (the chart above, is courtesy of the site) found that only 60.6 percent of full time undergraduate students had obtained their degree within eight years. Part time students took even longer, with less than a quarter of them finishing their bachelor’s degree after eight years. The numbers are even lower for two-year associate degree students.
The reasons for this dismal performance are well-documented.
- Too many high schools fail to adequately prepare their students for college. While innovative efforts are under way to change this, those requiring remedial courses in college to catch up with their better-prepared counterparts still comprise half of all students enrolling in a two-year associate degree program and about one in five of those seeking a bachelor’s degree.
- Not surprisingly, those who do require remediation are about 40 percent less likely to earn a degree in a timely manner than those who don’t.
- College costs are rising much faster than inflation, causing many students to delay or abandon their education. A 2009 survey of Millennials who had dropped out of college found that they had done so because they had to work full-time or did not receive enough help from their family to be able to afford staying in school.
And that’s not all.
Despite continuing to raise tuition rates, a recent Bain & Company study found that about one-third of all US colleges are on an unsustainable financial path.
Its examination of more than 1,700 public and private nonprofit colleges found that the growth in these colleges’ debt and the rate of spending on interest payments and on plant, property, and equipment rose far faster than did spending on instruction from 2002 to 2008.
In no other industry would overhead costs be allowed to grow at this rate—executives would lose their jobs, the Bain study said, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education article about the study.
Clearly, to continue to maintain its critical role in providing the nation with the skilled workforce our economy requires, the nation’s system of higher education will have to find ways to deliver a better product at a lower cost.
Fortunately, solutions are rapidly coming into view that will win over Millennials, first as students, and then as parents of America’s next generation of students. One is the increased use of technology to both reduce the cost and increase the effectiveness of instruction.
The introduction of Massively Open Online Courses, or MOOCs, by some of the nation’s leading universities is at the leading edge of this trend. Unlike earlier versions of distance-learning, these free offerings take advantage of delivery platforms that use data-mining technologies to personalize material and analyze huge numbers of student experiences to see which approach works best.
MOOCs are still in their infancy, with a variety of universities partnering in both for-profit and nonprofit consortiums, some of which offer credit for completing a given course and some of which only issue a “statement of accomplishment” and a grade. Even though they are free, these courses provide a high-quality instructional experience and, as a result, hundreds of thousands of students have signed up for them, according to a July article in The New York Times.
In the future, many colleges may find it easier to lower their costs by granting credit for these types of courses and focusing their instructional efforts on providing the level of social interaction that is essential for real learning to take place.
One way that shows early promise for making this happen is through the adoption of the same digital technologies that have been used to create immersive, interactive experiences in games, such as World of Warcraft, or movies, such as “Avatar.”
Studies have shown very positive effects on the skill and performance of students exposed to such “serious games” in subsequent real-world situations. The experience of being engaged in these simulated environments has also been shown to produce positive effects on the individual’s or the group’s identity, an important part of Millennials’ maturation.
The Bottom Line
By adopting these new technological solutions to the cost and effectiveness of instruction, America’s system of higher education has an opportunity to make a higher quality education available to Millennials at a lower cost.
This should enable America’s next great generation to acquire the skills and knowledge the country needs for its future economic success. If it does, the nation will have found a win-win solution to its current higher education challenges—just the type of outcome Millennials prefer.
In the mid-1950s, the McGuire Sisters’ version of Johnny Mercer’s song about what happens when an irresistible force meets an immovable object made it to number five on the record charts. Their prediction, that “Something’s Gotta Give,” provides an apt description of the outcome of today’s battle between the parents of Millennials who want more say in their children’s education and the teacher unions and school district administrators who refuse to give up a smidgeon of control over the public schools they run.
One of the hottest battle fronts in the war between these two forces has been debates over whether to adopt “Parent Trigger” laws, similar to those passed in California in 2010. Such legislation empowers the majority of parents in any school district deemed to be “failing,” according to the federal No Child Left Behind standards, to essentially reconstitute the school according to parents’ desires either by turning it into a charter school or removing and replacing all current teachers and administrators.
Since 2010, Texas, Mississippi, and Louisiana have passed similar legislation and it is up for debate in major industrial states such as Michigan, Pennsylvania and New York. In Florida, the idea came within one vote of passage in the State Senate thanks to the enthusiastic support of former Florida Republican Governor, Jeb Bush. At the same time, such Democratic stalwarts as Barack Obama’s Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, and liberal Congressman George Miller (D-CA) have expressed their strong support for the concept.
Most recently, the bi-partisan U.S. Conference of Mayors unanimously passed a resolution in support of Parent Trigger laws. Los Angeles Mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa, chairman of both the Mayor’s Conference and the upcoming Democratic National Convention, led the charge for the resolution’s passage, aided by strong support from Democratic Mayors such as Michael Nutter of Philadelphia and Kevin Johnson of Sacramento.
None of this has softened the resistance from teacher unions, historically a bulkwark of Democratic support. Often led by unreconstructed Boomer liberals from the 1960s, they see the law’s emphasis on parental prerogatives as the ultimate threat to their control of the classroom and educational budgets. In the most recent battle, unions were able to pressure Change.org, a for profit, grass roots website “staffed by some of the most talented progressive organizers in the country,” to bar StudentsFirst, an advocacy group run by Democrat Michelle Rhee, the former Washington D.C. School Superintendent, that supports giving parents more control over the schools their children attend, from using its website.
And when the chief press person for Parent Revolution, the non-profit that is the primary driver behind the adoption of Parent Trigger laws, was announced as the new education media spokesperson by Obama’s re-election campaign, teachers' unions threatened to withhold their support of the president.
In the long run, the implacable objections of the unions to parents having more say over the type of education their own children will fail. They will prove no match for the irresistible force of generational change that is already sweeping away existing institutional power structures in schools across the country.
One of the distinguishing characteristics of Millennials, born 1982-2003, is the intense interest their parents take in every aspect of their children’s lives. This desire to constantly hover over their offspring earned parents of older Millennials (those now in their twenties) the sobriquet, “helicopter parents.” The younger half of the Millennial Generation, which accounts for most elementary and all secondary school students today is primarily parented by members of the more entrepreneurial Generation X (born 1965-1981). These parents replaced their Boomer predecessors’ tendency to hover and talk with a desire to take action and change bottom-line results.
Millennials are the largest, most diverse generation in American history, and many of them are now starting to have children of their own. When those children begin arriving in the nation’s schools, Millennial Generation parents will bring the same dedication that their own parents exhibited to making sure each school serves their child’s interests first. As a result, it won’t be long before the same rights California, Mississippi, Texas, and Louisiana parents now have are given to every parent in the country. As Ben Austin, the founder of the Parent Revolution points out, “the old coalitions don’t apply here; it’s a cause that unites parents from upper-middle-class and working-class backgrounds—white, black, and Latino alike.”
The type of generational change America will experience over the next few decades will drive the transformation of America’s educational institutions and overwhelm those who attempt to keep parents from deciding what kind of school their kids go to. When push comes to shove, something’s gotta give. And, in the end, that means that those who stand for the status quo in our nation’s schools will have to give up their traditional prerogatives and let parents choose the educational experience they think is best for their own children.