What drives you most can ultimately determine your success. And, according to a paper highlighted by The British Psychology Society, millennials pursuing higher education in the U.S. are more motivated than previous generations by making money.
Researchers from San Diego State University came to the conclusion after assessing surveys of incoming college freshman conducted between 1971 and 2014.
Over eight million students in total, including millennials, Gen Xers and baby boomers, were asked about their reasons for enrolling in school. They had to answer how much they valued outcomes like “to be able to get a better job,” “to be able to make more money,” “to learn more about things that interest me” and “to prepare myself for graduate or professional school.”
The researchers then looked at the answers “corrected for relative centrality,” which allowed them to “see how the reasons have changed relative to the general tendency of students to say their reasons were important.” This was necessary because millennials were more likely than the previous generations to list all the choices as important reasons for going to school.
What this indicates, researchers conclude, is that the quest for knowledge has been supplanted by more concrete motivations, like a paycheck.
This makes sense when you consider how much more expensive college has become. In 1960, the median tuition at private colleges was $475, or about $4,000 in today’s dollars. In 1970, it was $1,561 ($13,149 today) for four-year private institutions and $358 ($3,015 today) for public ones.
Today, in contrast, according to College Board, the average cost of one year at a public university for an in-state student is $20,090, and $34,220 for out-of-staters. The cost of private school, including tuition and fees, can be almost twice as high. That’s how millennials have ended up with $1.4 trillion in student debt.
Meanwhile, the economic value of a college degree, which has been called the “new high school diploma,” is not what it once was. Young people know that even an expensive BA can’t be counted on to provide financial security.
So the practical attitude of today’s college students makes sense. Sure, more young people value learning for what it can do for them. They don’t have the freedom that boomers had to focus on learning for its own sake.