Today's Update: Thursday, February 16, 2023

February 16, 2023

Dear Student Life team, 

The university Board of Trustees wrapped up their quarterly meetings earlier today. During the Academic Affairs and Student Life committee yesterday, I talked about the importance of constantly being nimble and adapting to the evolving needs of students. I invited the committee to work with us over the next years to identify any opportunities and address any challenges.   

More specifically, I pointed out that in the not-too-distant future we will transition between Generation Z (those born between 1997 and 2012) to Gen Alpha (projected to be those born roughly between 2013 and 2027). Generally, we can expect to welcome Generation Alpha onto our campuses by around 2030.  

I thought you might be interested in knowing a bit about Generation Alpha, too: 

  • There will be fewer of them than in previous generations. In the U.S., birth rates have been falling fairly consistently since the Boomer Generation, with the exception of one growth spurt between 1980 and 1990.  
  • They will be more racially and ethnically diverse than prior generations 
  • It is projected that mental health needs will continue to be a strong need among this generation. Globally, one in seven people aged 10 to 19-years old experience a mental health disorder and access to care is a global challenge, according to the World Health Organization.  
  • Emerging research on this cohort suggests they are motivated by issues of equality, equity and treating people fairly; sustainability; and may be less socially adept than prior generations because so much of their social peer interaction occurs digitally. 

Currently, we have no way of knowing exactly how the pandemic may influence the next generation, but we can anticipate some impact. For example, Gen Alpha experienced the COVID-19 pandemic in elementary school, which are critical years for math and reading development. The national average reading and math scores changed significantly, with a 5-point drop in reading scores and a 7-point drop in math scores. These score changes are unusual, as the national reading score has not dropped since the 1990s. Students with disabilities experienced the greatest declines in test scores during the pandemic. 

Note that most of the generational research currently available is focused on the United States. As an institution with strong international enrollment, we also must keep an eye on children growing up in other countries and cultures. 

The bottom line is this: As I told the Board, whether it’s from COVID or other societal, cultural or environmental inputs, we must track future students’ potential differences and needs so that we are best prepared to offer wraparound support services for academic and developmental success.  

Some ways we are doing this is by having a strong focus on assessment of programs and services to make data-driven decisions, and by ramping up our Program Review function in order to bring in outside expertise to evaluate our work and make action-oriented recommendations. The Center for the Study of Student Life is focusing on forecasting and other futurology considerations. And we are strengthening our academic partnership to ensure a holistic approach to supporting student success. 

Students of tomorrow will most certainly be in many ways different than students today, and we need to find Scarlet and Great ways to help them engage, learn and thrive.  


Melissa S. Shivers, PhD 

Senior Vice President for Student Life 
The Ohio State University