Iconoculture’s Elfering on the Minds of Today’s Students

“The Millennials want the best of both worlds, so that means you have to give them affordability and value,” said Katie Elfering, senior director and consumer strategist for Millennials, Media/Entertainment/Technology, and E-Retail at Iconoculture.

Elfering also gave a glimpse into the minds of Gen We, who are now age 18 and under. They embody diversity rather than just embracing it; believe in the power of one person to make a difference; expect things to be personal, customized, boundary-less, and “to just work”; and have a sense of their economic boundaries. Put all of that together and it means they embrace choice and know their options, said Elfering.

When it comes to college, the major story Gen We and the Millennials (now ages 19 to 36) are hearing right now is about student debt. “That’s what’s shaping perceptions around value,” said Elfering, “and it makes them ask, ‘What are the long-term ramifications of paying for college?’ They know and understand there’s a lifetime economic benefit to earning a college degree, but they also see headlines about recent college graduates lagging behind in wealth accumulation: In 1980, the average young adult was earning the U.S. median income by age 26. Today it takes until age 30 to hit the median.

When you factor in the average student-loan debt, the typical young adult won’t be able to retire until age 73. “This is a really scary thing to think about,” said Elfering. She added, “Despite the fact that we can prove unequivocally that people earn more over a lifetime with a bachelor’s degree, when they see that debt for earning a bachelor’s degree is rising while median income with a bachelor’s degree is falling, it hits home.”

“The perception rules, and that’s a big challenge to overcome,” Elfering concluded.