Generational Shockwaves and the Implications for Higher Education

Generational Shockwaves and the Implications for Higher Education

Edited by Donald E. Heller and Madeleine B. d’ Ambrosio

This volume, part of the TIAA-CREF Institute Series on Higher Education, is based on a national conference convened by the Institute in November 2007. The generational issues that were the focus of the conference raise both risks and opportunities with the potential to profoundly affect our cultural environment, both inside and outside academe.

Chapter 1: Generations of Americans: A Big Picture Look at the Future of Higher Education

Neil Howe, William Strauss and Reena Nadler

Subjects: economics and finance, public sector economics, education, education policy, politics and public policy, education policy, social policy and sociology, ageing, education policy


Neil Howe, William Strauss, and Reena Nadler “I Am a Student! Do Not Fold, Spindle, or Mutilate!” read the signs of picketers outside Berkeley’s Sproul Hall in 1964, mocking the computerpunchcard treatment the university was supposedly giving them. Through the postwar years, Americans had grown used to talking about a conformist Silent Generation of college students. Now, a new generation was arriving, the Boomer children raised in the aftermath of World War II. These megaphone-toting, confrontational students launched a “Consciousness Revolution” to demand that their war-hero elders live up to higher moral standards. Twenty years later, US campuses experienced another surprising shift. The Wall Street Journal noted in the late 1980s, “It is college presidents, deans, and faculties—not students—who are the zealots and chief enforcers of Political Correctness” (“Politically correct,” 1990). The new batch of students, born during the Consciousness Revolution—children of rising divorce, latchkeys, and ad hoc day care—showed much less ideological passion. These Gen Xers left the moralizing to older people as they brought a new pragmatism to the nation’s campuses. Today—40 years later—graying college leaders on the verge of retirement continue to carry the ideological torch, crusading for various causes in ways that often irritate their younger Generation X faculty. Meanwhile, newly arriving undergraduates are showing yet another generational personality. Born after the Consciousness Revolution, this rising Millennial Generation is generally upbeat, team-oriented, close to their parents, and confident about their future. Unlike Boomers, they do not want to “teach...

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