Contrary to what the media might tell you, millennials are motivated by making money—and they aren’t as sold on the whole “college” thing.
According to a San Diego State University study that surveyed incoming college freshman between 1971 and 2014, about 71 percent of millennials said they felt making money was important, while only 55 percent of boomers felt the same. Moreover, millennials were more likely to say that they were attending university to make more money. This answer outweighed other reasons like “to learn more about things that interest me” and “to prepare myself for graduate or professional school.”
As CNBC points out, skyrocketing tuition costs play a large part in these results. In 1970, tuition for a public university was $358 ($3,149 in today’s dollars), while today it’s $20,090. Millennials have no choice but to look to high paying jobs because the alternative is living with their parents as they pay off their student debt. Sadly, this is the reality for 32 percent of millennials.
Researchers also noted a 7 percent difference in how much millennials value education compared to boomers. Young people understand that the value of a college degree has diminished over time due to various reasons, including increased competition from fellow college graduates.
The Great Recession hit millennials especially hard, not only with unemployment but with lagging salary growth. The median salary for 25-year-olds is $31,000, while the median salary for 35-year-olds is $45,000. Millennials, in general, realize that this is not sustainable when student debt is part of the equation, and understand that their degree will need to provide some kind of return on investment. Of course, added pressure from parents should also be noted.
Countless articles seem to suggest that millennials are driven by purpose rather than monetary gain, as if they don’t have a care in the world about material wealth. It’s true that young people today seek more purposeful work and aren’t as consumed by material possessions, but they also need to sustain themselves and the lifestyle they desire.
Brendan Pringle (@BrendanPringle) is a freelance journalist in California. He is a National Journalism Center graduate and formerly served as a development officer for Young America's Foundation at the Reagan Ranch.