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Ohio State anticipates the future needs of the next generation of college students

An Ohio State University sign.
Angie Wang

The Ohio State University is contemplating what it needs to bring to the table to remain a competitive university in 2030, when kids born in the “alpha generation” between 2013 and 2027, begin pursuing higher education in about 10 years.

Melissa Shivers is senior vice president of student life at the university. She gave a presentation Wednesday to OSU’s Board of Trustees Academic Affairs and Student Life Committee.

“We need to make sure that we're able to understand the various needs of this generation, to better support them, to be able to attract them. But certainly to continue to allow us to be a leader across the country in the student experience," Shivers said.

Shivers said birth rates are expected to continue to trend down, as they have for several generations, and for students to be even more immersed in the digital world. Despite that, Shivers said she expects enrollment in traditional, on-campus programs to stay strong, even as digital resources, such as online appointment scheduling, become more frequent. "I believe that Ohio State and institutions like ours will continue to see a lot of strong interest and enrollment of students who want to have have what we call now a traditional, residential experience," Shivers said.

Shivers said immersion on campus is tied to academic success, with 71% of students who live in a residence hall graduating within four years, compared to about 60% of students who did not. "What we know is that students have higher retention and persistence rates when they live on campus," she said.

The future infrastructure on campus should be flexible, Shivers said, and be affordable and accessible to all. "Our facilities from our classrooms to our dining locations to our recreation facilities to the Ohio Union, and certainly our residence halls need to be multi-functional as possible," she said.

Students are more likely to expect more flexible living arrangements and more privacy. "Today's students are increasingly focusing on their holistic well being and how space can contribute to their well being in unique ways. We are beginning to see a couple of trends toward densification. And allowing for more space and privacy, especially in reaction to the COVID pandemic," Shivers said.

With so many of the generation effected by the COVID-19 pandemic, Shivers said the university will need to be prepared for students with lower reading and math skills and be positioned to offer more mental health services.

"It has become increasingly clear that for the unforeseen future, we continue facing (the pandemic's) repercussions for generations to come," Shivers said. "For example, generation alpha experienced the COVID-19 pandemic in elementary school, which are critical years for math and reading development."

She said the national average for reading and math scores "changed significantly," with a five-point drop in reading scores and a seven-point drop in math scores.

Shivers said that's the first time the national reading score has dropped since the 1990s.

Renee Fox is a reporter for 89.7 NPR News.