Ask the Experts

Parental Perspective

My parents do not understand how much college has changed since they were here. Please explain it to them?

You know you parents had the same request when they were students and tried to explain a changing world to your grandparents. However, your generation has clearly seen exponential changes in college, career and life. The advent of the digital age surely leads the way, but you will read below your parents’ generation set changes in motion that you are now experiencing.

There is no doubt that the world is a different place now, with attitudes to life, love and work for young adults vastly different from a generation or two ago. Firstly, college admission and attendance itself has changed; more students than ever before are attending college. Around 70% of high school graduates are now enrolled in college according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Undergraduate enrollment has over doubled in the past four decades, but completion rate remains virtually unchanged. Around 40% complete a degree in four years while 60% take six.

A delayed adulthood for this generation is affecting all aspects of work, age of leaving home, education, and marriage and children. A large number of young adults in their twenties feel that they are in an ‘in-between stage’ of life. Around 47% of 19- to 21-year-olds still live with their parents and only 7% live with a husband or wife at this age. According to a report by Pew Research, 72% of all adults over 18 were married in 1960 compared to only 51% now.

Looking at your neighbors reveals much about the changing economic demographics. Seattle is experiencing a 12% annual growth in tech jobs. In the late 80s, 52% of real estate buyers were married, while now only 40%, observe Seattle condo agents. The average age of the first-time buyer is now 33, about the start of the Millennial generation.

There are a lot of stereotypes about millennials being lazy or self-centered, but many argue that delayed adulthood can be a good thing for young people. Times have changed and the rush to marry and settle down is no longer a pressing issue, although many parents may argue it was different in their day. The ‘emerging adulthood’ stage is an opportunity to grow, hone decision-making skills and become independent without rushing into things due to social pressures.

Technology has changed the planet, with nearly all students today required to use laptops to complete coursework and assignments online. Class registration and grades are all accessed online and computers are commonplace in lecture rooms today.

Smartphones are another revolution that have changed lives and the way we communicate. Students are overwhelmed with news, social media and digital marketing campaigns, that are all aimed at grabbing their attention. These things simply did not exist for your parents, so they may sometimes struggle to see what all the fuss is about.

Student debt and tuition fees have both changed dramatically since your parents’ times, and not for the better. According to the Institute for College Access & Success, almost 70% of students left college in debt, the average owed being a whopping $30,100. This is a harsh and challenging reality that will impact several years into your working life. Financial management skills are now required as part of college life today. The high costs of tuition and related expenses also means that most students will need to work to supplement their living expenses, or stay at home longer.

Your parents had a different experience and a different lifestyle when they were at college, and you now know why.

When you’re finished changing, you’re finished… Benjamin Franklin.

Nadeem Ghori is the President of Webplex, a digital analytics agency.