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Colleges, Universities are Tapping into the Next Generation: Attracting and Retaining Millennials

by | Nov 8, 2012 | Industry News & Trends

With multiple generations in the workforce and admissions trying to reach the best and the brightest, it’s necessary to tailor your communication style to fit your audience. You can no longer rely solely on a paper viewbook to attract perspective students. Generation Y, sometimes referred to as the Echo Boomers because of their huge numbers (according to the US Census there are three times as many Gen Ys as there are Gen Xers), has a reputation for being peer-oriented due, in part, to the reliance on instant communication technologies and the Internet, including email, IMs, texting and social media components like YouTube, Facebook, MySpace and Twitter.

When recruiting Generation Y (exact pinpoints are not agreed upon but generally this term refers to individuals born between 1979-1994, approximately 60 million people) you need to give some thought as to who they are and what motivates them. If Gen X is the MTV generation, you can think of Gen Y as the American Idol generation. They are a collective who have been awarded throughout school with everybody-wins trophies. You show up, you get a ribbon. (Alsop, Ron. The Trophy Kids Grow Up: How the Millennial Generation is Shaking Up the Workplace. Jossey-Bass)

This has translated into a group who believe they can all sing well enough to win a national competition. But they are also a very giving group. USA Today reports that they volunteer more than any previous generation and they are more socially conscious than any generation since World War II. They have been strictly scheduled throughout most of their lives in sports, dance, foreign language classes, etc. Gen Y is also dependent on peer-to-peer interaction and holds peer reviews in high esteem.

This benefits colleges and universities in a very direct way. Generation Y understands the importance of higher learning, you just have to find a way to appeal to them.)

1. They are technology-savvy. It’s not enough for you to have a website. Gen Y’s online usage extends past such basics. You need to involve them. Interaction is key. Many no longer listen to voicemail. Communication is done through text messaging and text messaging is done during everything from driving, to watching a game, to using the restroom. You want a platform that can go where this group is going – everywhere.

2. They need to feel valued. Remember the everyone gets a ribbon idea? This group has plenty to offer, and knows so. Their opinions are valuable, and it’s important to them that you know that. Online communities and wikis are great for keeping their interest.

3. They want to be friends. For this generation, it’s not the quality but the quantity. Number of friends, followers and fans are very important to their collective thinking. Connecting them with peers (already on campus or those planning to be) is essential to holding their interest. A unique online community allows your admissions staff to connect with potential students in a secure manner surrounded by your branding. Refer-a-friend features allow them to direct interested friends your way as well.

4. They want to be a part of something big. This generation, more so than any before it, has giant ideals laid out. They want to be the next biggest (fill in the blank) but most of it involves being affluent and lauded. When possible illustrate to them how becoming a student will help them achieve these goals. Making them feel like a vital part of a school community is imperative. They are not a number and will not tolerate feeling like one. Consider this when drafting your copy, whether it’s on your website, letters or emails. Blogs can also be an integral part of keeping them interested as they like to see their thoughts highlighted in a public forum.

5. They can’t remember a world that wasn’t social. They may not believe in going to schools just because they are legacies. They may base a lot of decisions on peer reviews and opinions – but one thing that can be said for these early adopters is that when they become part of your community, they are more likely to remain a part of it. They tend to seek out technology early and keep at it. It’s important to invite them to become a part of your institution’s online student community.

The economy has placed challenges on recruitment, but specializing your offerings to appeal to the technology-savvy Gen Y will benefit you in the long run. This is a very different group you are targeting, so review your pitch copy and your technology offerings and see how you can bring them into your online community as well as your college.


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