Launch Slideshow

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The Replacements

The Replacements

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    Photo: Stephanie Diani/Getty Images

    Millennial Lindsey Mannan (left center) and Gen Xer Kathy Mahboubian (right center) are being groomed by their baby-boomer mentors Jill Thomas (left) and Alan Oswald to navigate the ins and outs of the Engineering & Building Department in San Juan Capistrano, Calif.

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    Photo: Morton College

    Right: Since Morton College, Cicero, Ill., was refurbished to attract the latest generation of students, enrollment has increased. Two students share ideas over a laptop, which is built into a cubby wall that provides quiet computer space in the college's hallways.

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    Photo: Operations and Maintenance Division, Washington County, Ore.

    Ben Walnum gets acquainted with the public sector as an intern for Washington County's Department of Land Use and Transportation.

Case study: Work-life balance

A lesson in creating the right atmosphere.

Just four years ago, Morton College in Cicero. Ill., looked like any community college built in the 1970s, with walls and carpeting in the dull orange and brown hues typical of the era. The college's atmosphere, like its computers, was outdated.

When Brent Knight took over as president of the college in 2003, he set out to create the intuitive, visual learning style that students born between 1982 and 2000, otherwise known as the “millennials,” thrive on.

According to Sandra Saldaña, vice president of student success, as part of an ongoing strategic plan, key stakeholders—administrators, staff, faculty, community leaders—identified district educational needs that also branded the values of the communities they serve. Through research, surveys, and focus groups they found that the students, computer-savvy and predominantly Hispanic, respond best to an atmosphere that uses colors and visuals to foster a sense of trust and belonging and celebrate family and history.

They used this information to redesign the college into what it is today: a vibrant, high-tech environment whose walls tell a visual story of the college, surrounding communities, and U.S. history. The college even houses a museum.

“Like many small schools, our funds are limited,” says Saldaña. “So we found inexpensive and exciting ways to transform the school.” This included applying for grants, soliciting monetary and material donations, and purchasing low-cost, custom-designed furniture crafted by inmates in the Illinois prison system.

All décor is student-friendly and ties into the college and surrounding communities. Plus, LCD television screens in hallways and community areas communicate college-endorsed messages to the student body, and science and computer labs incorporate the latest technologies.

The newly built Student Success Center houses the student union with quiet study areas and a game room, as well as student academic support services including tutoring, placement testing, and student orientations. The state-of-the art library offers a cyber café. Teaching methods have been tweaked to include multisensory techniques for today's hands-on students, and informal mentoring programs have been established.

Though a museum may not be the route for your department to take, Morton College's cost-effective transformation to suit the needs of today's students is an inspiration to public agencies reaching out to new recruits.

“Our enrollment is up by 18% since 2003,” says Saldaña. Most other community colleges are experiencing decreasing enrollments.