Working with Today’s College Students

Sigma Nu Leadership conference

By Ben Nye (Arkansas) and Todd Denson (Nicholls State)

We all need refreshers. We forget things. We miss important details. Sometimes we need to be retrained. Life happens. For alumni interested in working with Sigma Nu collegians, this is no exception.

Consider Division Commander Jamison Keller’s (Cal State San Bernardino) input on alumni who want to work with their chapter. “A lot of alumni think that it is the same as it was when they were collegians. In reality, it’s totally different,” said Keller when asked about his advising experience. From taking on massive amounts of student debt to norms of communication, student life has changed in ways that many older alumni may not realize.

Many alumni advisors who want to help a new generation of college students may find themselves in a similar position to what Keller described. To help alumni better understand today’s students and thus advise them more effectively, we have identified several areas we hope will assist collegians and alumni advisors forge stronger relationships.

Student Debt

College Cost

In February, Americans had over $1 trillion in student debt. Image courtesy of

One of the major factors affecting the current generation of college students is debt. As of February, 2014, American’s have over $1 trillion in student loan debt. What’s more, the current generation of college students (millennials) are bearing a large part of this load.

In a study conducted by Wells Fargo, over half of 1,414 students surveyed had used student loans to finance their educations. Additionally, a 2011 report from the Department of Labor and Statistics said that the average debt load for the class of 2010 was $25,250 per graduate. An especially tricky and unique aspect of student loan debt is that it can’t be forgiven in bankruptcy.

What’s more, working through college probably doesn’t cover nearly as much as it used to. The steadily rising cost of college has created a situation that is challenging to overcome without financial support from parents or taking out substantial loans.

Campus Technology

While it has become a truism to say that technology has advanced in the past several generations, we won’t deny the impact and pervasiveness of these changes. Most pronouncedly, technological change has occurred through social media, which has become a mainstay on college campuses.

Graduation Selfie

Increasingly, mobile-only social media platforms are being used by college students. Image courtesy of College of Dupage Newsroom.

Facebook, launched in 2004, is still widely prevalent with college students, but that may be changing. A 2013 survey conducted by Noel-Levitz, a higher education consultant firm, recorded that 67% of college students use Facebook, down 12% from the previous year.

Instead of Facebook, many college students are now turning to mobile-friendly social media apps such as Snapchat and Instagram. In a November, 2013 article, CNET reported that Snapchat users now upload more photos per day than Facebook users.

Granted, the services do not function the same way, but the statistic is still telling. Snapchat, Instagram, and Twitter all favor mobile use and Snapchat and Instagram are only useable through smartphones. With these social media services primarily used through smartphones, students are increasingly turning away from desktop computers and towards smartphones.

Other social media services such as Yik Yak allow students to post anonymously to a local newsfeed that is only viewable by individuals on a certain campus. The app has caused controversy and in some cases resulted in anonymous threats causing campuses to shut down.


As Division Commander Chris Graham (Lamar/Stephen F. Austin) recently pointed out, communication methods have changed significantly in the past several decades among advisors and students. In Graham’s view, the abundance of communication methods has actually made it more difficult for advisors and collegians to connect.

“I call him and it goes straight to voicemail. I send him an email he never answers, but it’s because he’s used to texting,” said Graham, describing an interaction with a collegiate member. “That’s the communication norm that has been established for him.”

An alumnus used to interacting through phone or email may need to redefine the communication relationship with collegiate members. For Graham, it is essential that the advisor and collegiate member settle on a communication method that works for both parties.

Of course, with the greater access to new communication technology, it can also allow for a unique structuring of an alumni advisory board. Jamison Keller described how AABs can use technology to diversify their memberships. “With Skype or Google+ people can video chat and have a similar experience to being physically present.”

And for the millennials reading: pick up the phone — it’s still how business gets done.

Today’s collegiate Sigma Nus need their alumni brothers more than ever.

Standards and Programs Have Changed

In many ways, Sigma Nu has adapted to continue pursuit of its mission and to shore up problem areas.

One such example is the adoption of the Risk Reduction Policy and Guidelines (RRP&G). Adopted during the 1980s, the RRP&G has changed over time to regulate the activities of chapters in certain key ways. Some of the most noticeable changes have included limiting the number of people who can attend chapter socials (the member to guest ratio is 2:1), outlawing kegs and other centrally located sources of alcohol, and forbidding chapters from pooling funds for the purchase of alcohol.

Alumni who are not familiar with the RRP&G would do well to review the policy and guidelines, especially considering that chapters are expected to adhere by the policy at all times. Equally important for alumni who graduated before 1980 is seeking to understand the events that led to this intersection of liability and insurance coverage.

Another new addition is the Fraternity’s LEAD Program. Unveiled in 1988, LEAD has been the Fraternity’s premier ethical leadership development program for collegiate members for over two and a half decades.

Composed of four Phases, LEAD is designed to help assist collegiate Sigma Nus in their development as members. Chapters need help implementing the program and becoming a guest facilitator is one of the best ways to help.

Lastly, in 2000, the Fraternity set out to develop a set of minimum standards for chapter performance. The minimum standards that were developed became known as the Pursuit of Excellence Program. Since developing the original Pursuit of Excellence Program, the Fraternity revised it in 2006 to ensure that each chapter was driven to pursue the Fraternity’s vision of “Excelling with Honor.” Each chapter now gets annual feedback on its submission and the program is designed to ensure that the highest performing chapters are eligible for the Rock Chapter Award.

What’s Your Mindset?

Every year, Ron Nief and Tom McBride — faculty and staff of Benoit College — publish a “mindset list” of the incoming freshman class. The list explains what the current freshman class has experienced in their young lives and always includes some surprising points for older readers. Some noteworthy examples from this year’s list include, “The water cooler is no longer the workplace social center; it’s the place to fill your water bottle,” and “Joe Camel has never introduced one of them to smoking.” It is a fascinating list and worth reading.

In commenting on changes that students have undergone, Nief and McBride are quite convinced in the stability of at least a few areas. “Meanwhile, the goals of education — knowledge, perspective, judgment, and wisdom — remain the same,” they said in article about the 2018 list.

The same could be said for Sigma Nu and its members. No matter how much its collegiate members, policies, or campuses may change, Sigma Nus will always remain committed to excelling with honor and living by the values of the Creed. Today’s collegiate Sigma Nus need their alumni brothers more than ever, especially those who will abide by the values of Love, Honor, and Truth. Don’t let generational differences diminish a passion to help today’s collegiate brothers.

Sigma Nu Leadership conference

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