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Millennial Students using cell phones

Meeting the Needs of Millennial Students

Students arriving at universities across the country in fall 2007 joined a population of faculty, staff and continuing students from diverse ethnic groups and four distinctively different generations. The newest cohort, referred to as the “Net Generation,” or “Millennials,” numbers more than 80 million and makes up more than 41 percent of today’s population. It is the largest generation since Baby Boomers and is poised to impact American culture in profound ways.2

"Millennial students have grown up in a world that is fundamentally different from that of previous generations." 1

Individuals working and learning on today’s college campuses were born between the late 1930s and approximately 1990.3 This generational diversity brings unique challenges to the academy. Since every generation can be skeptical of the values and abilities of other generations, and every generation attempts to “correct” the errors of those who came before them, the potential exists for “generation gaps.”4

Today’s college demographics and the unique characteristics of Millennial students have generated a great deal of interest among student development professionals nationwide. In an effort to identify ways to connect with these students, the Student Services Division examined the topic at two events during the fall.

At an event held October 8, nationally recognized trainer Tracy Knofla led guests of the Associated Students, Inc. and the Student Services Division through exercises to identify generational perspectives. These activities revealed a number of historical events and popular trends that shaped each of the four generations. (See page 20.) While the trends which emerged may reflect some generalizations, the themes are still informative for those who work with students.

Also, at the Student Services Division’s annual staff meeting on November 2, William Draves, an internationally recognized author and president of the Learning Resources Network, provided Student Services employees with a perspective on how people will work, live and learn in the 21st century. Draves reported that the values of the 21st century are being formed by the Internet and technology and these values are profoundly impacting the way Millennials perceive life, learning and working.

According to New Directions for Student Services, a sourcebook edited by Coomes and DeBard, “Two powerful forces—history and popular culture—play an important role in shaping the values, beliefs, attitudes and worldviews of individuals and groups.”5

A closer look at the defining events and popular trends that impacted the four generations now at CSULB is informative in understanding the characteristics of everyone involved and in identifying the educational and developmental needs of the newest cohort. As author Marianne Williamson said, “In understanding ourselves, we come to understand the world.”6


Students talking over coffee

Millennial students want to be part of a group and like to congregate.

Defining the Generations

Researchers have labeled the four generations, from oldest to youngest, as Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, Gen Xers and Millennials.


Traditionalists—the group styled by Tom Brokaw as “The Greatest Generation”—were born between 1900 and 1942. Most Traditionalists working or studying on campuses today were born in the late 1930s. Technology has morphed exponentially in their lifetimes. Early in their lives, these individuals were shaped by the Great Depression, the New Deal and World War II. Their historical setting required them to make sacrifices for family and country. As a result, most Traditionalists are loyal, collaborative and patriotic individuals. They place a high value on respect for authority, personal sacrifice, civic pride and frugal living. Traditionalists account for approximately 75 million people in the United States. At CSULB, 13 percent of the faculty, staff and administrative employees are in this category.7

Baby Boomers.

More than 80 million Americans were born during the baby boom of 1943 to 1960. Boomers were impacted by nationally shared experiences brought by television, including the assassinations of the 1960s, the civil rights movement, the Vietnam War, the women’s rights movement, the Space Race and Watergate. Boomers saw technology progress from adding machines and rotary phones to calculators, eight-track tapes, automatic typewriters, video games and computers. Pop culture was impacted significantly when Boomers came of age. Their generational values include rejection of authority, individualism, optimism, competitiveness and consumerism. Boomers account for more than 40 percent of faculty, administrators and staff at CSULB.8

Generation X.

The smallest cohort of the four, Gen Xers account for approximately 46 million Americans. Born between 1961 and 1981, many Gen Xers were “latchkey kids” impacted by working mothers; single parent homes; news stories of violence, AIDS and child kidnappings; and the Gulf War. These experiences shaped Gen Xers into independent and skeptical individuals who question the military, the government, organized religion, corporations and marriage. For Gen Xers, cutting-edge technology include video games, VCRs, cable TV, personal computers, microwave ovens, ATM machines and cell phones. While most Gen Xers are entering middle adulthood, they comprise more than 18 percent of the student population at CSULB. More than 42 percent of CSULB employees are Gen Xers.9

Millennial Student Enrollment

Millennial Student Enrollment Chart, explanation follows.

Figure 1: Nation-wide millennial student enrollment at degree-seeking institutions. In 2012, Millennial student enrollment will increase by 93.5 percent over the 2002 level, while enrollment of students from other generations will decrease by 50.2 percent (National Center for Education Statistics, 2002).


Millennials were born after 1981 and began arriving on college campuses in 2000. Their numbers are so great that the college matriculation of Millennials is referred to as the “Tidal Wave.”10 It is predicted that 2010 will be the peak year for Millennials to enter college.11 More than 79 percent of the fall 2007 student population at CSULB were Millennials.12

Millennials are the most racially and ethnically diverse generation in U.S. history. One in four grew up in a single parent household. They saw new examples of family—many grew up with working mothers, blended families and homes impacted by a divorce rate exceeding 50 percent. Millennials have known just two presidents; for them, “public figures” often are athletes or celebrities. Defining events include the Clinton impeachment, the Monica Lewinsky scandal, the death of Princess Diana, the uncertainty of the election of 2000, 9/11 and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. For this group, cutting edge technology includes iPods/MP3s, camera phones, PDAs, digital cameras, personal DVD players and virtual vreality.13, 14

Unique Characteristics of Millennials

  • This generation was wanted and they feel individually and collectively special as a result. They feel connected to their parents. They are optimistic and engaged.

  • This generation was highly protected and sheltered by parents and authority figures. Many had overindulgent parents. They were rarely left unsupervised. They are comfortable with significant parental involvement, and they expect parents and college employees to resolve their conflicts and to protect and nurture them. They trust institutions, but are skeptical of authority figures.

  • This generation is motivated, goal-oriented, assertive and confident. They want to make a difference. They are civic-minded and value service learning and volunteerism. They believe college will help them get a great start in life. They expect to advance rapidly in the workplace.

  • This generation is team-oriented. They want to be part of the group, like to congregate and fear being seen as non-conformist. They are in constant contact with peers via cell phones, text messaging and social networking websites. They prefer egalitarian leadership over hierarchies.

  • This generation is high achieving. Even in elementary school, they were expected to earn good grades, work hard and pursue extracurricular activities. They are the smartest generation ever, as evidenced by rising proficiency in standardized tests. They are focused on achievement rather than personal development. They may not value the benefit of lifelong learning.

  • This generation is focused on achievement and they feel pressured to succeed. They are used to filling every hour of the day with scheduled activities. They’ve been pushed to succeed and feel pressured. They had more homework than previous generations. While they are efficient at multi-tasking and believe it is a smart thing to do, they have challenges with time management and have zero tolerance for delays or idle time. More than 60 percent report they are sleep deprived. Three out of four work more than 31 hours a week and nearly half worry about money.15 They report high levels of stress and anxiety.

  • This generation is conventional. They are more respectful of adults than any generation in recent memory. They value manners. Their clothing and music are more mainstream than their predecessors. They are more modest and less sexually active than images in popular culture would suggest.16

  • This generation is accepting of lifestyle, racial and ethnic differences.17


CSULB student using her laptop in the University Student Union

Millennials expect technological processes that provide convenient, any-time, any-place replies to their questions.

Future Implications

The experiences, abilities and values of Millennial students can inform college leaders about defining services for them. The National Association of Student Personnel Administrators reported in 2006 that its three most discussed topics were mental health issues, parental involvement and social networking sites.



Researchers offer specific suggestions for meeting the needs of Millennial students:

  • Develop campus rituals and traditions to build sense of community;
  • Explain issues such as academic integrity, intellectual ownership, cheating;
  • Provide clear expectations, detailed instructions and explicit syllabi;
  • Offer mental health counseling and support;
  • Provide time management, study skills and conflict resolution training;
  • Plan opportunities for parental involvement;
  • Offer career planning that stresses the long term over the short term;
  • Provide internship opportunities;
  • Provide cutting-edge technology, interactive web services and an infrastructure for virtual communities; and
  • Offer additional technological support for Millennials who are first-generation students.18
CSULB Students standing together outside

Millennials are the most racially and ethnically diverse generation in U.S. history.

It is clear that the university must develop strategies for meeting the needs of Millennial students. Providing effective services for them will have implications for academic and co-curricular programs, communication strategies, technology and parental involvement.

In 1964, singer-songwriter Bob Dylan intoned that mothers and fathers could not understand their sons and daughters in, “The Times They Are A-Changin’.”19 As predictive today as it was then, educators and student services development practioners constantly welcome changing student cohorts whose values differ from their own. Through various processes, including assessment and program review, the Student Services Division is committed to identifying and addressing the interests and concerns of Millennials, and each student cohort, so it may frame support services and programs to best meet their needs.


  1. Michael D. Coomes and Richard DeBard, eds., Serving the Millennial Generation: New Directions for Student Services (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2004), 87.
  2. Reynol Junco and Jeanna Mastrodicasa, Connecting to the Net Generation: What Higher Education Professionals Need to Know About Today’s College Students (National Association of Student Personnel Administrators, Inc., 2007), 6.
  3. Tracy Knofla, “Understanding Today’s College Student and Providing Excellent Service” (presented at California State University, Long Beach, October 2007).
  4. Neil Howe, “Understanding the millennial generation,” Independent, (2003), (accessed January 15, 2008).
  5. Coomes and DeBard, 18.
  6. Marianne Williamson, Illuminata: Thoughts, Prayers, Rites of Passage (New York: Random House, 1994).
  7. California State University, Long Beach, Institutional Research and Assessment, unpublished demographic data (provided February 19, 2008).
  8. CSULB, Institutional Research and Assessment.
  9. CSULB, Institutional Research and Assessment.
  10. California State University, Long Beach, Enrollment Services, "Presentation on Enrollment Management," (accessed February 25, 2008).
  11. CSULB, Enrollment Services.
  12. CSULB, Institutional Research and Assessment.
  13. Howe.
  14. Jeanna Mastrodicasa, The Millennial Generation: A New Type of Student Arrives on Campus, (2007), (accessed January 15, 2008).
  15. Coomes and DeBard, 41.
  16. Howe.
  17. Mastrodicasa.
  18. Junco and Mastrodicasa, 86, 151-152.
  19. Bob Dylan, “The Times They Are A-Changin',” (1964),
    (accessed February 17, 2008)
  20. Coomes and Debard, 33, 73.