Today’s students have different backgrounds, outlook from ‘baby boomers’

By Jane R. Elgass

Today’s students come to the Univer-sity with a different mind-set than that possessed by members of the baby boom and earlier generations. We don’t share past experiences with them, thus sometimes making it difficult for us to understand what they need to help them join the campus community as full participants.

That was among the messages delivered to members of the Board of Regents at their April 15 meeting during a series of presentations by representatives of the Office of Student Affairs and a student theater troupe.

Vice President for Academic Affairs Maureen A. Hartford noted that the presentations were a “chance to see how we work cooperatively with others with respect to services for students.”

A snapshot of U-M students

Included in the “picture” of today’s student that Hartford drew for the Regents:

—The Class of ’92 is a misnomer for those who entered in fall 1992. Four years to graduation is no longer the norm; taking five to six years to earn a degree is not unusual.

—These students were born in 1974, and their “generational shaping” is different from that of earlier generations. The assassination of John Kennedy, Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. are “ancient history.”

—They are children of divorce—40 percent come from split families, and many are “latch-key” children.

The Challenger explosion was a key event for them, pointing out that the United States could fail, Hartford noted.

—They are more optimistic and politically liberal than their predecessors. They show increasing interest in community service activities. A significant number work to pay their way through college.

—When asked what they do for fun, the most common response is “drink.” They are concerned about alcohol and substance abuse. Date rape is identified by many as a serious problem.

—Many must work to meet the financial demands of a college education, thus lengthening their collegiate career.

—With respect to money, they are torn between “doing well and doing good.”

—They make greater use of counseling services than those who have gone before them.

—They have a quiet interest in protecting the environment.

—They function best late at night.

—They don’t know the dangers of drugs.

Moving from vision to reality

Steps taken earlier this year to reorganize the Office of Student Affairs were designed to “move from vision to reality,” Royster Harper told her audience. “We want to be more effective in meeting the developmental needs of students, offer them an opportunity for growth, for a positive experience at the University,” explained Harper, who is associate vice president for student affairs and dean of students. “We want to involve others in shaping that experience.”

Harper said Student Affairs has three primary thrusts:

—To respond to student needs, “to co-invent solutions with the students.”

—To track trends in issues, address continuing dilemmas and fix problems in the system. “We’re putting senior management on the front line with students in solving problems,” she said.

—Providing a direct line to help in the Dean of Students Office through its multi-cultural activities; through activities that meet needs of students in such areas as disabilities, ethics and religion, counseling and the Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center; and through working proactively with student organizations for a “student voice” in decision-making.

“We want students to learn and grow consistent with our values, and in helping them do that we must carefully balance our advocacy and education roles,” Harper stated.

Several living/learning programs already in place

Robert C. Hughes, director of the Housing Division, briefed the Regents on already existing learning/living programs involving his unit, noting that students spend about 70 percent of their time in residence halls, which they view as “home,” allowing for “a level of decorum less than that found in classes.” However, he added, “a little ‘letting go’ can be constructive.”

Of charges that there is a strong anti-intellectual atmosphere in the residence halls, Hughes said “the volume is small enough to invalidate these claims.” The problem, he explained, is more due to perceptions remaining unchallenged.

“No other university offers such opportunities as we do,” Hughes stated, adding that three living/learning programs already exist in collaboration with LS&A. Students tend “to feel distanced from faculty,” he said, “but that is not true of students in the Residential College, the Pilot Program in Alice Lloyd or the 21st Century Program. Those students have a solid feeling of connectedness.” A fourth program, designed for women in science and engineering and headquartered in Couzens Hall, will be launched this fall.

“Students in living/learning settings make larger gains than others in intellectual orientation,” Hughes said. “Those settings promote persistence and retention. They have a significant, positive influence on first-year students, enabling us to interlock their academic and non-academic lives.”

A more concentrated effort to involve students

“The University is a very complex, multifaceted institution and there is no one right way to accomplish what we want,” Frank J. Cianciola told the Regents. “We have multiple communities on campus. Our job, our focus, is to bridge gaps and identify common ground for the University.”

To accomplish this mission, Student Affairs has adopted five principles outlined by Ernest L. Boyer, the author of College: The Undergraduate Experience in America:

According to Boyer, activities involving students should be:

—Purposeful: “Learning should be the central focus of the University,” Cianciola said. It occurs in and out of the classroom and activities outside class “should be co-curricular rather than extracurricular.”

—Open: Refers to the quality of communication on campus, which currently suffers from a lack of civility. The University must reach out more often to the students and to organizations in addition to the Michigan Student Assembly. To promote openness, the Dean of Students Office is open until 9 p.m. twice a week.

—Just: Respecting the dignity of everyone.

—Disciplined: “Pressure, such as federal regulations and court rulings force us to address certain issues,” Cianciola noted. “The rules that govern a community ought to reflect the values of that community. The members of the community must help make the rules.”

—Caring: “We must take care of the well-being of both individuals and groups,” Cianciola said. “Students feel like numbers and we must engage them” to prevent that.

—Celebratory: “When students come here, we have to talk about how the University got here, the things that make us what we are today.”


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