Gerrit W. Bleeker, Emporia State University
Martha M. Bleeker, Independent Researcher
Barbara Bleeker, Emporia State University
Editor’s Note: The following article was developed from a presentation given at the NACADA Annual Conference in San Antonio, October 2009.
College students born after 1981 often feel special and more entitled than previous groups of students. Sheltered and praised by parents and authority figures, these students, often described as millennial students, also tend to be conventional, goal-orientated, high-achieving and confident, prefer to work in teams, and report high levels of pressure to succeed (Gleason, 2008; Howe & Strauss, 2003). Academic advisors in the Emporia State University (ESU) Student Advising Center (SAC) were interested in investigating whether the millennial students at ESU fit these characteristics, and, if so, what changes could be made in the way first-year students are advised.
To ascertain what our millennial students wanted and needed from academic advisors, we designed a twenty-three item questionnaire that first-year students completed during the first advising session of their second semester in February 2009. Advisees were asked to report on: (1) sources of academic advice and support; (2) the use of study strategies and study groups; (3) time spent studying, working, socializing, and surfing the internet; (4) parents’ involvement in academic decisions; (5) frequency of advisor meetings; and (6) helpfulness of the goal-setting process and Student Advising Center packet.
The survey results reflect how our students’ needs and approaches compare with those of typical millennial students and suggest areas for change in our present advising practices. Following is a summary of survey data which influenced changes we made in the way we advise first-year students.
Results: Survey results impacted three major areas: advisor training, advising materials, and advisee goal setting.
Advisor training for first-year students clearly needs to include a discussion of typical millennial student characteristics as well as an overview of our survey results in order to help advisors learn about our students. The results of our survey show that 40.7% of students work, and 32.7% of those working spend 21-30+ hours on the job. Most of our advisees (97.4%) report that attending class regularly is important or very important, and half (49.4%) find civic engagement or community service important or very important. Over a third of our students (38.6%) are not confident about their math skills and a similar percentage (36%) report that, after first semester, the areas they need to work on most are study habits and improving grades. Each of these results introduces new advisors to important advising issues.
Although 99% of students reported they trust their advisor’s academic advice, it is clear that advisees also value parental academic advice. When asked if they trust parental advice about academics, 88.5% of students agreed or strongly agreed. Similarly, when asked if they trust parental advice more than anyone else’s, 59.3% answered maybe or yes. As a result of these findings, we now emphasize that academic advisors should validate parental support and advice while making sure advisees get the best advice they can from advisors.
When asked how many hours were spent studying each week, 38.2% of advisees reported spending 1-5 hours and 41.2 % reported spending 6-10 hours. Meanwhile, more than half of our students (54.2%) spent 1-3 hours on Internet activities unrelated to school, and 30% spent 4-6 hours on the Internet. Advisor training and development now devotes more time to helping students develop time-management skills and study strategies for college coursework.
An important tool used in our advising center is our SAC PAC, which contains information for students such as an advising syllabus, graduation requirements, study tips, tutor opportunities, and on-campus services. The SAC PAC is given to advisees during their first advising session. Knowing that millennial students are very comfortable with technology, we wondered if they would be interested in accessing the SAC PAC on-line. A majority of students (74%) indicated they would use an on-line version, so we now supplement the original SAC PAC with an on-line version and encourage students to share it with their parents.
When asked if there might be additional information they would like included in the SAC PAC, the two most common responses were information about majors and minors, and information about campus activities. Since our university undergraduate catalogue is on-line, we have included this Web site in a list of several important sites recommended for student access. This provides students with immediate information about all majors/minors offered at our institution. Also included on our list is the Web site listing all campus organizations and information about organizations specifically related to a major.
Advisees’ positive feedback about the hardcopy SAC PAC also gave us data to support the budget for continuing to produce the paper version.
Advisee Goal Setting
A few years ago we conducted a pilot study on goal setting with first-year students; this study evolved into a major focus of our advising center. Each semester our advisees are encouraged to select a semester goal from the SAC goal sheet. Goals include developing study strategies for college classes, getting involved in campus activities, improving time-management skills, choosing a major, etc. Each goal choice is supported by a number of suggestions for achieving that goal. Knowing that millennial students are goal-orientated, we assumed that our most recent survey would support what we are already doing with goal setting. Several of the statistics already cited about time-management issues, need for study strategies, and interest in getting involved suggest that our assumption is correct. We have added a number of suggestions to our goal sheet based on the new survey data.
Although this research is directed toward approaches, materials, and tools used in a specific academic advising center, the results provide useful information for other collegiate academic advising settings and advisor training sessions. Academic advisors need to teach millennial students effective study strategies designed to help them succeed in college-level coursework and help them develop time management skills to prioritize their time for study, work, social activities, and internet use. Millennial students also need useful information about ways to get involved on campus and in the community. Finally, these students find it helpful to have access to on-line advising information which they can share with parents.
We have just begun to interpret and use the data we have collected. There is much yet to be mined, such as gender differences, first-generation student information, the impact of parental education levels, and comparison of millennial student and non-traditional student needs.
We encourage other advising centers to design millennial student surveys because the data gathered will strengthen academic advising and ultimately help advisees succeed academically.
Gerrit W. Bleeker
Dean of Graduate Studies
Emporia State University
Martha M. Bleeker
Instructor in Early Childhood and Elementary Education and Advisor
ESU Student Advising Center
Emporia State University
Gleason, P. (2008). Meeting the needs of millennial students. In Touch With Student Services. Retrieved from http://www.csulb.edu/divisions/students2/intouch/archives/2007-08/vol16_no1/01.htm
Howe, N. & Strauss, W. (2003). Millennials go to college. Great Falls, VA: American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Life Course Associates.
Cite this article using APA style as: Bleeker, G.W., Bleeker, M.M., & Bleeker, B. (2010, March). What millennial first year students want and need from academic advisors. Academic Advising Today, 33(1). Retrieved from [insert url here]