Why universities should welcome ‘perennials’
Published August 2023
There are several reasons why I enjoyed reading and highly recommend Mauro Guillén’s new book, Perennials: The mega trends creating a post-generational society.
First, Guillén is a sociologist. I am a sociologist. We need more sociologists writing nonfiction books for a general audience. Guillen teaches at Wharton.
second, Perennial He has some smart things to say about universities. Most of the books I read and talk about in this area say nothing about higher education, which forced me to make the connections. Guillén brings his arguments about rethinking how we think about generations and the life course to the university.
And third, Perennial Gets the formula right for fun nonfiction books. There are some real-life ideas that make you think, trends and data that build some knowledge, and stories that drive the narrative. Guillen’s writing hits that sweet spot.
There are three big arguments in Perennial. The first is that we would be wise, as individuals, to rethink our lives by following a strict play/learn/work/retire sequence. As life spans (and health) grow longer (if you’re reading this, you should prepare for a 100-year lifespan), the strict division between school, work and retirement no longer makes sense. We should consider integrating learning, work and play into all aspects of our healthy lives.
throughout Perennial, Gelin talks about the importance of online learning. And he actually seems to know what he’s talking about when he talks about online learning. This is unusual for authors (and academics) outside the field. The book points out how online learning enables full-time workers to be learners. I appreciate this observation.
The second major argument in Perennial is that organizations, including for-profit companies and non-profit universities, will benefit from rejecting the sequential life course mentality. Companies can attract and retain a more talented and diverse workforce if they allow employees to fully integrate work and family commitments. Universities and companies would be better off if they proactively included different age groups in their classes, programs and teams.
University leaders need to double-click on the idea that learning is stimulated by intergenerational collaboration. Many of our degree and non-degree programs are de facto or de jure segregated by age. Perhaps we are doing too little in higher education to build degree and non-degree programs (both residential and online) that are explicitly geared toward building multigenerational groups.
finally, Perennial It shows that sequential thinking in life helps inflict structural harm on low-income and underrepresented groups. As a society, we leave behind a lot of people who cannot progress through a standard set of milestones. There is too much focus on getting young people into college and not enough on keeping them progressing toward graduation. Our society also does not do enough to provide educational opportunities for working parents and older workers.
While segmenting a population by generations can be useful and interesting, there is little evidence that generational thinking is a valid or reliable tool for social analysis.
Perennial He makes a good case that individuals, organizations, and policy makers will benefit from adopting a multigenerational mindset.
what are you reading?