Just Friends, No Benefits

Kind of reminds me of the movie When Harry Met Sally.

It seems some things in college life never change, right?

Culture youth ministry

Understanding & Reaching Wireless Students

Whether you are a high school teacher, a high school pastor, or the parent of a high schooler we all have the same problem. How do we understand and reach the teenagers in front of us with messages that matter? 

I’ve found that this lead in question is often the problem.

  1. We are a generation of adults who likes to talk and pretend to be experts on things we don’t understand, we over-assume.
  2. What matters to you isn’t necessarily something that matters to the students in your life.

That said, there is plenty of research available which will help you better understand what’s important and how to reach those in high school right now. Why is there so much research done on this age group? Because bagillions of dollars in spending are influenced by them! (What? You thought researchers just liked them? Maybe so?)

Here’s what’s on the menu for understanding those who just graduated high school:

  • Soup of the day – The Beloit Mindset List for the Class of 2015. We start things off by recognizing the world they have grown up with. They’ve never had a home phone, they’ve never dialed up the internet, they’ve never known a world without terrorist plots or going to the gate to pick up a friend at the airport. This list provides context.
  • Chef’s salad – The cost of college is on the forefront of their minds. Most high school students live with the adult assumption that they need to attend college. They are marketing savvy enough to ponder, “Do I need to go to college or do adults depend on me going to college?” They are asking good questions to count the cost like, “Is college right for me? Why do I want to go to college and spend all of that money if I don’t know what I want to do? Am I going to make enough money in the long run to afford the debt it will take to graduate?” This is why the gap year is so intriguing to them. (This is a massive opportunity for entrepreneurs)
  • Featured entree`5 Ways to Friend the Class of 2015. Research start-up Mr. Youth has published a powerful marketing whitepaper which dove deep into the forces that move them. The five ingredients of this dish include: Help them express their personal brand, Integrate organically into their world, Get in good with their friends, Become an on-demand brand, Get to know them before assuming what they want.
  • DessertMillennial Donors 2011 Executive Summary. Today’s students are motivated to change things. According to the second year study called Millennial Donors, 93% of those surveyed gave money to charity. 79% actively volunteered their time. But 90% of those surveyed said they would stop donating (time & money) if they didn’t trust the leadership.

What does this have to do with my role in students lives? 

  • To reach students we have to understand what makes them tick instead of trying to get them to understand our point-of-view.
  • The world they have grown up in is vastly different from the one you grew up in. They already have a million adults in their lives that lecture to them, your best opportunity for reaching them is through listening.
  • Instead of asking students to get on your team you’ll need to help them see how your team and their team can collaborate. The concept of personal brand isn’t narcissism, it’s an opportunity.
  • Understand that a recommendation is their most powerful motivator. They simply won’t go somewhere or do something that’s not recommended to them.
  • They are hard-wired to give back, volunteer, and contribute their fair share. But the key component is trust. If you aren’t transparent and honest they will just move on.
Do you work with high school students? Do you agree or disagree with what I’ve pointed out? What are areas you’d like to explore more? How could this research impact your day-to-day interactions with high schoolers? 

Place your bet

Photo by @ Alex via Flickr (Creative Commons)

A few months ago I went to Las Vegas with my father-in-law for 24 hours. There are at least 4 things hilarious with that statement, right?

He was running a marathon and needed someone to drive with him from San Diego to Las Vegas and back. I went since it’d be nice to catch-up along the way as well as have lunch with my mom, who lives a mile from the Strip.

Since my mom lives there… I have been to Vegas at least 10 times. Normally, I like to people watch late at night. The joke has always been that I’m down $11 in slots lifetime and I’m mad about it. I’ve never really been into the games.

What I learned from 6 hours on the Strip

Unlike my normal late-night-people-watching, this trip had me up very early, checked out of my hotel, and walking the Strip by breakfast. With more than 6 hours to kill I wandered through a few casinos filled with old people playing slots and a bunch of dealers standing at empty tables.

Along the way I stopped at a Starbucks. As I sipped my mocha I entertained myself by watching a few scattered games here and there. In truth, like a lot of Christians, I feel really out of place on a casino floor. More because I don’t know what to do than that I don’t feel like I could enjoy it.

At one casino there was a small crowd around the crap table. It was a morning clinic explaining how the game worked. Perfect… I could kill an hour, learn something, and its free.

Here’s an observation from that clinic: There is a time to place bets. But once the time has passed it is too late for placing bets. You are either in the game or you are out. The shooter rolls 7 or 11 on his first roll, everyone with a bet on the line instantly doubles their money. If you think about it, every form of gambling has that same timeline. A time to place bets. A time when betting is closed. And a moment when a winner is declared. Cards, slots, horses, lottery, etc.

When you are playing in the game you have a claim at the table. You can win or you can lose. Your heart beats faster and adreneline pumps. The dealers chatter with you. And the cocktail waitress is happy to bring you a bottle of water or whatever you’d like on the house.

When you aren’t in the game you have no claim to the table. You can’t lose but you can’t win either. You’re on the sidelines as an observer. No pitter-patter of your heart. The dealers might not acknowledge you. And fat chance in getting a free drink from the waitress if you aren’t in the game. You’re just another tourist.

Gambling in Vegas is a lot like life outside of Vegas

It feels like people are so afraid of losing that they just refuse to place a bet at all.

  • College – Where do I want to go? What do I want to study?
  • Marriage and family– Is this the right person? What if it’s the wrong person? Should we have kids? If so, when?
  • Vocation – What do I want to do when I grow up? What if I don’t like it?
  • Location – Where do I want to live?

People aren’t shy about their shock with Kristen and I because we placed bets on all four of those categories early in life and have continued to “improve our hand” over the years.

The flip side, experience has taught: In order to win you have to place a bet in the game. And the window for placing a bet is limited. When the time comes to place a bet I already know I want to be in the game because sitting on the sidelines is too boring for me. There are risks and rewards… but I always know I want to be in the game.

Life’s winners and losers are in the game. But those who hold on, never placing a bet, will never know what winning feels like because they are too afraid to accept the risk of losing. And that, my friends, is losing every time.

youth ministry

College isn’t for everyone

The cost of college has gotten out of control

When I tell people that I have never had a student loan and paid for my undergraduate (and the 50% of my graduate) studies out-of-pocket, their jaws drop. It’s true. Kristen and I both earned our bachelors degrees and walked across the stage at graduation debt-free.

It really wasn’t that hard.

And yet, in the last 10 years college has gone from “really expensive” to “ridiculously expensive.

For instance: I was an undergrad student at Moody Bible Institute in 1994-1995. Total fees paid for room & board, $4200. Same room & board 17 years later? $11,000. $4200– I was able to swing that. I worked full-time during the summer and part-time during school and made it work. $11,000? I don’t see how that is possible today. And that is at a private Christian college which doesn’t charge tuition!

Here’s a quick glance at the current costs of some various undergraduate programs: (looking at in-state, on-campus, with meal plans, etc.)

For most families and almost all students that simply isn’t possible.

An undergraduate degree isn’t worth as much anymore

There’s an assumption that somehow all of that cost will pay off and that people who go to college will make more in a lifetime than those who don’t. But when you calculate in the cost of education, student loan interest, etc… earning an undergrad degree might not be your quickest path to financial success. Let’s compare two high school seniors. One chooses to be an elementary teacher and the other a plumber.

Profession Cost of Education Interest paid by age 30 (assuming 50% of costs result in loans) Average salary Working years until age 30 (assuming you complete the programs on time) How much money have you grossed by age 30? (pre-tax, after debt)
Elementary Teacher $92,938 $17,702 $51,467 8 $301,096
Plumber $0 $0 $58,332 11 $641,652


Teacher – Bachelors degree only, assuming no years off and getting a job right out of college.

Plumber – 5 year paid apprenticeship averaging $17 per hour; 6 years as a journeyman plumber averaging $40 per hour.

The same is largely true for a lot of professions. It takes so long for the cost of the education to make it worth it, and at the same time people change jobs more often than you’d imagine.

The median number of years that wage and salary workers had been with their current employer was 4.4 in January 2010, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. This measure, referred to as employee tenure, was 4.1 years in January 2008. The increase in tenure among those at work reflects, in part, relatively large job losses among less-senior workers in the most recent recession. Bureau of Labor Statistics of the U.S. Department of Labor

So there is a good chance that a person is going to go into debt learning a profession they might not work at long enough to make it financially profitable to do so.

This flies in the face of the mantra that college is for everyone. That’s a marketing lie. College isn’t automatically in the best interest of every student.

The Atlantic has a series of articles on this subject, far more in depth and poignant than I can articulate.

A sad fact is that a lot of people incur a lot of college debt but don’t complete their degrees nor enter into the profession they were studying in the first place.

College alternatives

I think, as youth workers who care deeply about the lives of our students, we need to help students and their parents find the best solution and not just a mantra that everyone needs to go to college.

The idea that everyone needs to go to college doesn’t make sense on so many levels. Not everyone wants to go to college. Not everyone deserves to go to college because they performed poorly in high school. Not everyone who graduates from high school knows what they want to do. And we don’t live in a society where our economy can support an environment where everyone gets a college degree. (There aren’t enough of those types of jobs, which is why a plumber makes more than a school teacher. Simple supply and demand.)

In fact, I think most students need to take a year off after high school. They need to get free enough from the rigors of high school to ask themselves the question, “Do I even like education? Do I want that? Is it worth my going into debt? Do I even know what I want to do?

They need to get away from their parents. They need to leave their communities of comfort. They need to get a job. They need to just get the heck out of what they know to find out who they are!

In other words they need to be allowed the space to grow up.

Which is, in my opinion, their parents worst nightmare.

hmm... thoughts illustrations

3 Types of Freshmen Parents

Photo by goto10 via Flickr (Creative Commons)

“Let’s go watch freshmen arrival day!”

I have a sick sense of humor. But I loved being on campus the day the new freshmen arrived at Moody. And one year I really did take the day off to enjoy the drama and help out a little bit with confused parents and freshmen.

It’s a day full of highs and lows. For incoming freshmen its a huge day when their parents drive away and they have to figure out life without the security blanket. For parents you can tell its a bit rough. Well, not for everyone. But its rough for some parents!

The joke was that you could tell birth order by how many people made the trip.

  • First born: The whole family came even if they drove from across the country. Mom, dad, and siblings all waited in line for the dorm room keys and welcome packet. Little brothers wandered the courtyard while mom and dad made nervous small talk with other parents. After they get all of their kids stuff into the tiny dorm room, they explored campus a little before taking their child out for one last meal together. They walked, ever so slowly, back to campus. If mom can think of anything they’ve forgotten she will stall it by making a trip to Target. But in the end, before dinner, there would be tears as they drove away. The first born would hold it together at least until the car was out of sight.
  • Middle child: Typically, one parent made the trip for boys and both came if it was a girl. Since they knew what to expect they would make their child stand in line while the parents unloaded the car. With keys in hand they did the whole routine a bit faster. And the whole thing was noticeably less emotional. They would drop everything off in the room, make a quick run for lunch, and try to get out of their child’s hair fairly quickly. Interestingly, it was usually the child who was left crying on the curb as the parents drove off. Almost in shock… as if to say, “But when you dropped off Chip you stayed a lot longer, you just left me here?” Once a middle child, always a middle child. Suck it up, kid.
  • The baby: This was an either or scenario. And the truth was that I would just hang out on freshmen day to see how it went. Some families just sent dad. You could always tell this scenario by where dad had parked. He would pull into the visitors lot in the family minivan and park in the 15 minute zone. Immediate loading and unloading only. Dad would get out of the van looking at his watch. He’d carefully unload all of the kids stuff onto the sidewalk while the child raced to go get a cart. Typically, the child would return just as dad was finishing up. The child expected dad to load up the cart and go upstairs… just like they had with the other kids. But dad would look at his watch, then point to the 15 minute parking sign. He’d give a hug to his baby and get in the car. Stunned, volunteers would help the student with her things while dad zipped out of the parking lot, and the child cried. Dad would give one look back and race off with a huge smile. The other scenario was equally funny. Mom and dad would make the journey, unpack the car, give their kid a hug… and hold hands as they basically skipped back to their car. As they pulled away, the windows were rolled down and Barry White was blasting. Something tells me mom and dad got a hotel room nearby… just in case their child needed them, of course. Freedom!

My first freshmen day

I was an atypical freshman at Moody. Since I needed to pay my own way through school, I actually had moved to campus in May of my senior year to start working full time. (I skipped the last 2 weeks of school, then came for graduation.) But about two weeks before classes started they allowed us to move from our summer dorms onto the floor we’d been assigned.

This meant that I was the only one on the 7th floor for two weeks. (Uh, since I had a master key, I confess I moved in a few weeks early. Don’t tell the dean.) Since I wasn’t arriving for freshmen orientation and I was done with my campus job, I actually lost track of which day people showed up. Somewhere in there my RA had came. But he had gone to a retreat and was never around. Essentially, I was by myself on a floor with 16 rooms. It was a big empty space and I’d had fun figuring out things to do in my spare time.

Somewhere in those two weeks it became a habit that I’d not carry clothes to the showers. It was funny as an 18 year old to walk the long hallway to the bathroom naked. Who am I kidding? Given the same choice I’d probably do the same thing today.

So, on freshmen check-in day, I was leaving the bathroom and heading back to my room. I had my towel over my shoulder and that was it. As I went to put the key in my door I heard a gasp. Yup, a first born was checking in down the hall. Mom, dad, and kid sister had an interesting first meeting with their sons floor mate!


After that, I got dressed and went through the line to officially check-in. The girl in front of me wouldn’t stop talking. She thought she had met her husband. And I got introduced to the idea of a stalker.

Culture hmm... thoughts

Bad news for suburban kids

graduation-dayIn the next few weeks millions of high school seniors will hear their name called and walk across the stage to recieve a high school diploma. There is an interesting phenomonon on graduation day that I’d like to point out.

Kids in the city are typically pretty excited about the achievement. In the city graduation rates are typically lower and there isn’t the same assumption that every child will graduate. Consequently, everyone is more excited and a city high school graduation ceremony is truly a celebration. Parents go nuts when they hear their kids name called. And students literally do backflips when they get their paper.

Kids in the suburbs are typically excited about graduation for other reasons. It’s assumed they will graduate so the ceremony carries an air of “farewell to my friends” more than a true celebration of achievement. Parents take pictures and clap politely as their children achieve something they fully expected their child to achieve. Rather than this being a moment to celebrate, students are anxious about how much they will get at their graduation party or hoping to get to go to the hot girls party. It’s a nice day but lacks the flamboyance of the party in the city.

That’s not the bad news.

dorm-lifeThe bad news is that kids from the city are going to kick the kids from the suburbs butt from here on out! While their richer, more priveledged peers wallow away their days coming up with new ways to not work, take advantage of their parents wealth, and essentially avoid responsibility as long as possible, all while piling up tens of thousands of dollars in college debt. Kids from the city are taking advantage of the system and running laps around their advantaged peers.

Let’s contrast things.

1. The typical “rich white kid from the suburbs” goes to college on a combination of his parents dime and college loans. Almost none work significant hours. (20 hours per week or less seems to be the norm) They waste time professionally. They are so busy playing, going to class, and hanging with their friends that they skirt by classes without taking them seriously. I’ve met countless affluent college kids who passed all of the tests but didn’t learn a thing in 4 years of college. They graduate with $40,000 in debt and no real life experience. Without a job they move back home and hope that someone will give them a job. I’ve even witnessed these affluent college kids chose to live at home and make no money while skipping opportunities to take entry-level jobs at places in their chosen career path. The assumption is that the system will work for them. One day they will magically wake up from a video-game-induced dream get their dream job and make loads of money. The truth is they don’t know how to work hard to earn good money as they’ve never been forced to innovate solutions or hustle to make rent money. In fact, with the mom/dad fall-back plan there is no motivation to strive to achieve anything. They will always have a roof over their head, they will always have food in the belly, a car to drive, and someone to care for them. And even more true is that the silent racially lopsided system doesn’t work like that anymore. While they were watching The Hills, kids from the city took the upper hand.

2. The typical “working-class minority kid from the city” goes to college on a combination of scholarships, work study, and summer jobs. While their more affluent peers weren’t looking, their ACT and SAT scores have caught their suburban peers and the system rewards minorities who compete academically with rich white kids. In other words, a Hispanic student from the city will get a full ride with the same scores that the suburban kid had. (It’s no secret that scholarship dollars are easier to get for minorities.)  Taking advantage of that, these students work harder in class, consequently learn more, and are ultimately rewarded with more opportunities than their affluent peers. job-search-resumeWork study and summer jobs, combined with almost no college debt result in a college graduate who is highly marketable and financially advantaged for the first time ever. They are more industrious, more hungry to take responsibility, and more aware that they can make it than ever.

As an adult I look at this and slap my head. If you were an employer looking at the resume of recent college graduates… which employee would you want? The kid who came from nothing but is crawling out of poverty by his achievement and hard work? Or the kid who was handed everything and never worked a day in his life?

And that my friends is bad news for the suburban kids.

Parents! What are you going to do with this scenario? How can you change your behavior from enabler to motivator?

hmm... thoughts

Get a Mystery Box, Will Ya?

Go here to learn more about the project.

Here’s a fun back story that I didn’t share on the blog or the video. Ian [YS’s media guru] and I went down to City Heights to shoot this piece last Tuesday night. I hadn’t met Christopher before, but Ian knew him from the shoot he did for the NYWC story last year. Reality Changers meets in this very cool office building, a gem of a building in a transforming neighborhood. We were welcomed with a surprise. Each time they meet parents from the group provide a meal to students and they invited us to join in. Let me just say… it was some good eats! But that’s not the cool part of the story.

Ian and I had an opportunity to sit in on part of their big group program. We were in for a treat as one of the students was sharing about his recent trip to the east coast. See, Reality Changers had helped him change his reality big time. Not only was this young man going to get to go to college, he got to chose between attending Harvard or Columbia. He told us every painstaking detail about his flight, the subway, what he ate, who he met, on and on.

You know, I knew Reality Changers was doing amazing things. But to hear just how amazing… shocking!

So, help YS and Reality Changers. Make a donation of $20 or more and YS will send you a box full of goodies.

Church Leadership Culture

The mindset of college freshmen

Here is this year’s Beloit College Mindset list for 2008.

For these students, Sammy Davis Jr., Jim Henson, Ryan White, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and Freddy Krueger have always been dead.

1. Harry Potter could be a classmate, playing on their Quidditch team.
2. Since they were in diapers, karaoke machines have been annoying people at parties.
3. They have always been looking for Carmen Sandiego.
4. GPS satellite navigation systems have always been available.
5. Coke and Pepsi have always used recycled plastic bottles.
6. Shampoo and conditioner have always been available in the same bottle.
7. Gas stations have never fixed flats, but most serve cappuccino.
8. The students’ parents may have dropped them in shock when they heard George Bush announce “tax-revenue increases.”
9. Electronic filing of tax returns has always been an option.
10. Girls in head scarves have always been part of the school fashion scene.
11. All have had a relative—or known about a friend’s relative—who died comfortably at home with hospice.
12. As a precursor to “whatever,” they have recognized that some people “just don’t get it.”
13. Universal Studios has always offered an alternative to Mickey in Orlando, Fla.
14. Grandma has always had wheels on her walker.
15. Martha Stewart Living has always been setting the style.
16. Häagen-Dazs ice cream has always come in quarts.
17. Club Med resorts have always been places to take the whole family.
18. WWW has never stood for World Wide Wrestling.
19. Films have never been X rated, only NC-17.
20. The Warsaw Pact is as hazy for them as the League of Nations was for their parents.
21. Students have always been “Rocking the Vote.”
22. Clarence Thomas has always sat on the Supreme Court.
23. Schools have always been concerned about multiculturalism.
24. We have always known that “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.”
25. There have always been gay rabbis.
26. Wayne Newton has never had a mustache.
27. College grads have always been able to Teach for America.
28. IBM has never made typewriters.
29. Roseanne Barr has never been invited to sing the national anthem again.
30. McDonald’s and Burger King have always used vegetable oil for cooking french fries.
31. The students have never been able to color a tree using a raw-umber Crayola.
32. There has always been Pearl Jam.
33. The Tonight Show has always had Jay Leno as its host and started at 11:35 p.m. Eastern time.
34. Pee-wee has never been in his playhouse during the day.
35. They never tasted Benefit cereal with psyllium.
36. They may have been given a Nintendo Game Boy to play with in the crib.
37. Authorities have always been building a wall along the Mexican border.
38. Lenin’s name has never been on a major city in Russia.
39. Employers have always been able to do credit checks on employees.
40. Balsamic vinegar has always been available in the United States.
41. Macaulay Culkin has always been Home Alone.
42. The students’ parents may have watched American Gladiators on TV the day they were born.
43. Personal privacy has always been threatened.
44. Caller ID has always been available on phones.
45. Living wills have always been asked for at hospital check-ins.
46. The Green Bay Packers (almost) always had the same starting quarterback.
47. The students have never heard a gasoline-station attendant ask, “Want me to check under the hood?”
48. Iced tea has always come in cans and bottles.
49. Soft-drink refills have always been free.
50. The students have never known life without Seinfeld references from a show about “nothing.”
51. Windows operating systems have always made IBM PC’s user-friendly.
52. Muscovites have always been able to buy Big Macs.
53. The Royal New Zealand Navy has never been permitted a daily ration of rum.
54. The Hubble Space Telescope has always been eavesdropping on the heavens.
55. 98.6 degrees F, or otherwise, has always been confirmed in the ear.
56. Michael Milken has always been a philanthropist promoting prostate-cancer research.
57. Off-shore oil drilling in U.S. waters has always been prohibited.
58. Radio stations have never been required to present both sides of public issues.
59. There have always been charter schools.
60. Students always had Goosebumps.

Feel old yet?

HT to Jake