Millennials Have Arrived. Is Higher Education Prepared?


A 2015 study from Pew Research found that Millennials already represented the largest percentage of the U.S. workforce at 35 percent, ahead of Generation X (34 percent) and Baby Boomers (29 percent). As the youngest Millennials graduate from college and begin working, several studies have indicated that Millennials will make up about half of the U.S. workforce by 2020.

Much has been written about the impact of Millennials on the workplace. Millennials prioritize work-life balance, which allows them to effectively juggle career, family, social life, philanthropic activities, travel, etc. They like to operate in teams and collaborate via text and instant message on their mobile devices. They’re born multitaskers. Once they know their job and your expectation, Millennials prefer to figure out the best way to complete tasks and achieve goals. They want their opinions to be heard, but they also crave feedback. They expect to be held accountable, but they also expect praise for a job well done.

Much has also been written about the need for colleges and universities to adapt their curricula to better prepare Millennials for their careers. According to the Bentley University PreparedU Project, significant progress has been made.

The inaugural Bentley study from 2013 found that majorities of all survey respondents gave Millennials a C or lower when grading their preparedness for their first jobs after college. Although 74 percent of non-Millennials said Millennials added value to the workplace by offering different skills and work styles, recent graduates and employers both struggled to find what they were looking for.

However, the 2016 Bentley study found that 78 percent of employers believe recent graduates are indeed prepared for success in their careers. Employers recognize the importance of the ability to work collaboratively and critical thinking, while educators are placing greater emphasis on the value of real-world experiences outside the classroom.

But what about Millennials in higher education administration? As administrators retire or move on to new opportunities, Millennials will take on these roles. Are higher education institutions doing a good job integrating Millennials into administration?

One survey found that Millennials believe colleges and universities aren’t innovative and have outdated collaboration practices. There isn’t enough engagement with Millennials, who value collaboration, brainstorming and empowerment. Six in 10 Millennials believe there is no simple process for implementing new ideas to achieve productive outcomes.

Higher education institutions need to adapt processes, workflows and technology in a way that suits Millennials so their talents can be maximized. Traditionally rigid hierarchical structures need to be more flexible to enable collaboration and promote engagement. Change should be welcomed, not resisted, if it leads to better outcomes. Make sure Millennials have a seat at the table when choosing new technology and updating business processes.

Millennials don’t want to waste time on tasks that technology can eliminate or simplify. Rather than emailing files back and forth, provide them with secure access to centralized data systems. Look for ways to automate data uploads and forms processing. Take advantage of real-time collaboration and data sharing tools that streamline communication and the exchange of information. This allows Millennials to be more productive while giving them the flexibility to work remotely.

Clinging to legacy processes and technology can put institutions at a competitive disadvantage, and it only delays the inevitable shift to a more collaborative, flexible environment. Higher education administration operations must evolve if institutions expect to attract and retain Millennials and fill leadership gaps with the most qualified individuals.