A few days ago, I had a good conversation with a recent graduate named Andrew. Andrew was the model college student. He worked hard, studied rigorously, and graduated with a 3.5/4.0 GPA.
Andrew made the most of his time and investment, but there was one thing he didn't receive from his alma mater, and it was something he could never properly articulate until now. He wanted someone to help him find his purpose or his "calling." Andrew wishes college had helped him discover how to impact his community or at least find fulfillment in his skills and his passions.
Instead, Andrew got a degree in a field he fears he will eventually hate, and confusion about what he truly wants to be and do with his life.
Andrew represents a new generation of college students who are looking to earn a degree, much like the generations before them. But unlike their predecessors, Millennials are yearning to gain something from college that many of us want but don't quite know how to say - they want someone to help them find purpose, some meaning, a way of leaving a bigger impact. Millennials need their university to step up and offer advice and the support necessary for them to figure out what they want in life.
I went through four different majors before I graduated with a degree in criminal justice and zoology. Not surprisingly, I don't use either. Does it matter? To me it does. Looking back, I wish someone had encouraged me to go out and explore the world and decide on a major after.
I was forced to have a major before I could proceed with my studies, then I was led to declare a minor because that would make me a better student.
I have a minor in zoology. Besides knowing that the genus and species of Bison is Bison Bison, I am neither qualified nor do I have a desire to start taking care of animals at the Indianapolis zoo. It's not my passion.
What if someone had encouraged me to take a course on entrepreneurship? This could have been a game changer for my undergraduate career, helping me narrow my focus to something I love.
But my advisor knew nothing about me and didn't care about my "purpose." Rather, he met his minimum "advising" requirements and fell short of the mentoring I desperately needed. And this pattern continues: advisors in there fifties or sixties advising students to stick with their chosen vocation. Millennials leave these sessions laughing, and believing present sentiment that our universities are out of touch.
Old systems proved useful for institutions of high learning, motivated by a consumer culture and reflecting the desire for efficiency. But higher education must move beyond this transactional phase of its evolution. The next generation of students expects a holistic education with services and a culture that goes beyond the degree.
To universities across the country: help your students find their purpose, or they'll have an even more difficult time feeling satisfied in their future careers. This intangible responsibility is bigger than national rankings. Ensure your students actually benefit from their time. These are your future donors, the ones who support your foundation and act as the loudest advocates on your behalf.
They desire purpose. Help them find it.