Declaring a college major is as old as time but, for 31% of college students, it may be an outdated relic.
Imperative, the company behind The Purpose Economy, collaborated with The University of Michigan, Grinnell College and Seattle Pacific University to survey a representative sample of their undergraduate students.
From mid-2015 to mid-2016, 1,586 students completed the survey, which found that, according to Imperative founder Aaron Hurst, "31% of all students expressed interest in replacing declaring a "major" with declaring a "purpose" and select courses based on obtaining knowledge that would help me move in that direction."
The study is groundbreaking as one of the first statistically significant samplings of college undergraduates at a varied base of institutions - public and private, faith based and non-faith based - to specifically target an understanding of how central those students view purpose-based work to the development of their careers.
Millennials differ from previous generations in important ways that relate closely to purpose. Statistically, millennials are far more likely to jump from company to company early in their careers. They are also much more likely to switch career focuses, either by attending classes to learn a new career - ranging from business school to trade schools to specialty skill programs like General Assembly - than preceding generations.
The combined cause-effect of this trend is that millennials are far more focused than their parents or grandparents on issues like workplace fulfillment, identifying with the mission of the company, and finding intrinsic meaning in their own role, while still placing varying levels of priority on compensation levels and extrinsic motivators like perks and promotion.
What this study, and other indicators like it elsewhere in the workplace - including recruiting data and attrition levels at major companies - suggest is that both universities and companies will need to refine their approach in the future to incorporate purpose deeply in the workflow.
What are some ways students and early career professionals might start to feel the change?
1) Major companies are beginning to recruit around Purpose, touting the important of their firms' work and the intrinsic benefits of their industries equally alongside pay and career advancement
2) Colleges will begin to diversify career fairs more to include more companies - often smaller and more nimble - that reflect millennial concerns
3) Organizations catering to millennials and working on providing benefits to them in the workplace, such as the newly formed Association for Young Americans, may work with more firms prioritizing purpose
4) Some leading companies will begin to brand themselves as purpose-driven, and already have, which will cause a trickle-down effect into the majority of the millennial workforce.
So, it's a good time to be purposeful.