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Chancellor's Column - August 2004  

Meet the Millennials - The Class of 2008

In the spring, it is often my honor to address college graduating classes as a commencement speaker. These occasions are attended by the families and friends of the students, proud to see them walk across the stage, symbolizing an important moment of achievement in their lives.

And, each fall, thousands of high school graduates begin their college careers on Oklahoma campuses. Students under the age of 20 make up about 44 percent of the freshman class. This means that a growing number of adults are entering college for the first time – about 27 percent of college freshmen are over 25 years of age. Our campuses offer a wide variety of degree courses at times that are convenient for adults, and more are taking advantage of that.

But what about the traditional students – the recent high school graduates? Well, they are attending Oklahoma’s colleges and universities in record numbers as well, with another 3 percent increase expected this year. About 56 percent of them go to college directly out of high school. These students understand the value of college better than ever before – well over 90 percent know that college will provide better job choices and allow them to earn more money.

These students are part of a new generation of students, called by many the “millennials,” and, if the researchers are right, they could represent a wave of optimism, trust and teamwork unseen since the G.I. generation.

The term “gen X” is well known and widely used and generally covers people born from 1961 to 1981. The millennial group started in 1982 and is just beginning to graduate from college and enter the workforce. So, for the next couple of decades, our campuses will be serving, for the most part, a different type of student.

Studies show that they will tend to be more traditional in their values and more responsible in their behaviors. Some of the cynicism that has marked both the “baby boomers” and the “gen-Xers” should be less pronounced. It is probably no coincidence that we have seen recent decreases in the rates of youth crime, school violence, teen pregnancy, suicide and substance abuse.

Our higher education system needs to be ready to play to the strengths of these young people. Their cooperative nature and enjoyment of group activity may change how we structure our classes. Their media and technical savvy is already showing up in the skyrocketing demand for online courses. Even on-campus students are enrolling in courses that used to be thought of as “distance learning.”

Our campuses must also be ready for more involved parents. Millennials feel much more connected to their parents, and their parents respond by continuing to remain closely involved in their lives, even when they go to college. There is also an understandable, and ever increasing, desire for personal security on our campuses and elsewhere, and our institutions must continue to respond to this need by making campuses safer and more secure.

I think we can expect great things from our young students; they certainly expect great things from us. As this talented group moves through our public schools, we will be more challenged than ever before to present a higher education option that is appealing to this high-achieving generation. This new generation holds the promise of a better future for our state, and our institutions will be working even harder to provide them with the skills they will need to be our future leaders.