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A new book based on surveys from 2006-2011 of undergraduates and student affairs officials on 270 U.S. college campuses, “Generation on a Tightrope: A Portrait of Today’s College Student,” fills in some new details and reinforces the presence of attributes we have recognized for a while regarding Gen Y/Millennials. Given the years cited, the data focuses on the younger half of this generation.

The book was written by Arthur Levine, former president of Columbia Teachers’ College and now president of the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, with Diane R. Deane. Dr. Levine related key findings of the surveys in an interview in the New York Times Book Review (November 4, 2012).

He mentioned the 4 most key events in this cohort’s lives in order of significance, some of which were surprising to him:

  1. The advent of digital culture
  2. The economy
  3. 9/11
  4. The election of President Obama

About the pervasive integration of digital culture, one student said, “It is only technology if it happened after you were born.”  But I think it’s important to note that it’s not a matter or tremendous tech savvy. Generation Y has been raised with technology and its members are referred to as “digital natives” or “tech dependant” (which is different from “tech-savvy”. Gen Y is not necessarily tech-savvy, as they tend to want their technology to be as simple and straightforward as possible). They want to integrate technology into all aspects of their lives, including work.

Here are the Gen Y/Millennial attributes Dr. Levine cites from the surveys.

  • Pragmatic – They view the primary purpose of education as “to get a good job and make money” rather than following their passion or Milton Eisenhower’s (former president of Johns Hopkins) advice that an undergraduate major teaches you how to learn, and that’s most important.
  • Diversity mindset – They strongly favor diversity, and they tend to favor the same celebrities and public figures as a group.
  • Optimistic about themselves, but pessimistic about the future of the U.S. They were always told they were great and expect grade inflation and praise.
  • A great fear of failure. They haven’t been taught to expect to fail, and resilience is lacking. They feel the pressure of expectations that they will succeed.
  • In constant touch with their parents, and they call on parents to help with any difficulties and questions. Parents are heroes to many of them – and that would seem to put pressure on parents to overdo attention.
  • Don’t know how to have intimate relationships or crucial personal conversations. Social life tends to be either in groups or a series of hook-ups.

Dr. Levine gives Gen Yers’ strengths as: digital skills; interest in global issues; and dealing better with diversity than generations before them.

In my follow up post, I will give some thoughts and questions on what this all means.

Phyllis Weiss Haserot    www.pdcounsel.com 



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