THE BLOG
07/21/2014 12:16 pm ET | Updated Sep 20, 2014

Unexpected Ways Millennials Are Impacting Higher Education

Millennials are making their mark on higher education. This plugged-in generation learns differently, and education institutions are starting to take note. Yet the education industry, with its emphasis on "focus work" over the more collaborative techniques Millennials prefer, might not be adapting quickly enough. Generation Z students, born with smartphones in their hands, are right around the corner, making it essential for higher education to adapt more quickly.

In a recent survey, nearly half of Millennials employed in the education industry indicated their employers have outdated collaboration practices. Education's highly regimented structure means the industry is less open to collaboration techniques and big ideas. It scored the lowest for using brainstorming meetings to generate big ideas (only 65 percent) and in supporting spontaneous collaboration (56 percent) among coworkers.

So how are Millennials changing higher education, and what does the industry need to do to keep in touch with digitally-savvy students? Here are just a few solutions for bridging the divide between higher ed and Gen Y:

The Push Toward Master's Degrees

With decreased opportunities in the current job market, many Millennials are opting to stay in school for a longer period of time. This makes sense, since additional schooling often leads to an uptick in salary.

According to the Pew Research Center, Millennials with a master's degree are earning 23 percent more than their counterparts in 1984. Higher education institutions need to prepare students for a master's course and offer robust graduate programs in order to attract great students. For many Millennial students, learning no longer ends with a bachelor's.

More Online Learning Tools

Colleges are massively reluctant to jump aboard the MOOC (Massive Open Online Courses) bandwagon. Only 2.6 percent of colleges had MOOCs in 2013, with only 9.4 percent in the planning stages. Over 55 percent of institutions said they were generally undecided about utilizing this particular tool. Yet Millennials are comfortable learning on the Internet, and many enjoy the ease and convenience of being able to learn on their own schedule.

In fact, the number of students taking at least one online course has grown to encompass 6.7 million students and faculty are finally taking notice. According to research, over 69 percent of academic leaders say online learning is critical to their education strategy. Millennials have been instrumental in this shift toward online learning, and Generation Z will demand digital tools in the learning process, as well.

Increasing Collaborative Learning Projects

Millennials want to work collaboratively with their teachers and other students. Unfortunately, many higher education institutions are not set up for this kind of learning. It's time for higher ed to take notice of the teaching strategies that work best for Millennial students.

In fact, a study by NYU found retention soared when learning roles were more collaborative. The average retention for a static lecture was only five percent, and for reading, retention only went up to 10 percent.

However, discussion groups led to 50 percent retention, while practice by doing led to 75 percent retention of material. Millennials want to play a more active part in their own learning, and the best way to speak directly to these students is to put away the PowerPoint slide and get students more fully immersed in work.

Putting Students in a Teaching Role

The flipped classroom can be a great way to get Millennials involved and collaborating toward their own education. According to the NYU study, retention jumped to 90 percent when students were put in a teaching role. Allowing students to teach each other puts them in control of their own educational journey, getting students involved in the learning process with a hands-on perspective.

Millennials are rapidly expanding the traditional college classroom, demanding more online learning solutions and a more collaborative atmosphere between students and teachers. If higher education institutions take note, they'll be ready not only for Gen Y, but also for the upcoming Gen Z.