Marketing Students Research Millennials, Health Care with Avera

Like all Augustana students, members of Jaciel Keltgen’s “Health Care Marketing” class are ambitious and seek academic excellence, but this class also sought something greater. Together, classmates decided to tackle a major issue in healthcare: the choice of millennials to forego medical insurance.

“Millennial behavior is truly a mystery,” said Keltgen, an assistant professor of business administration who studied millennial physicians as the focus of her dissertation. “Understanding them is crucial for businesses wishing to reach and serve millennial customers but also employ them.”

Group projects are a common teaching tool used at Augustana and around the nation. They help students develop skills in teamwork, socializing, patience and responsibility. However, the best projects are those that have an impact outside the classroom.

Keltgen's class has partnered with Sanford Health, the American Cancer Society (ACA), and LifeScape in recent years. This year, Keltgen reached out to Avera Health, a regional health care system interested in determining the factors that influence millennials – individuals born between the early 1980s and early 2000s – in their healthcare insurance decisions.

The project gained full approval from Augustana's Institutional Review Board (IRB), an organization that was established to ensure the rights and welfare of human participants in research are protected. With the help of Marketing Consultant Jennifer Olson, former vice president of marketing operations at Sanford Health, the students took the assignment.

The class began a massive branding effort and invented their key word, "MillenniCare," a conjunction of  millennial and health care. They then established a strict color scheme and logo and titled their presentation “MillenniCare: Understanding Health Insurance Choices for the Invincible Generation.”

The 14 students established seven teams that covered assignments like drafting surveys, leading focus groups, writing, and presenting.

“[Keltgen] allowed me and the other students to take control of the project and treat it as our own, which allowed the class to gain an understanding of project management and market research through hands-on, real-life experience,” said Augustana senior Bethany Olson, account executive for the project.

“By combining our skills, we were able to make what we felt were the best decisions,” added senior Amanda Turner who worked on the survey, focus groups, editing and presentation teams. “All students I approached were very interested in what we were working on and were eager to help in any way possible.”

The Affordable Care Act requires all U.S. citizens to have health care insurance to avoid a penalty on their taxes. Through their research, the students found that 24 percent of millennial respondents between the ages of 26 and 35 were unaware of the tax penalty.

The team also identified key differences between millennials and the prior generation – like financial instability, lack of religious affiliation and increased racial diversity – and discovered that Avera has captured 79 percent of new healthcare enrollees in South Dakota through its program, Avera Health Plans.

In addition to discovering data that will allow all businesses to market to the millennial generation more effectively, the project provided prime experience for the students.

Keltgen argues students learn to use strategies more effectively when they are given a real-life problem, and it gives them an opportunity to showcase their abilities and boost their portfolios at an early age.

“Students can give back to their communities through their intellect, and college is a safe environment in which to experience community service and see the importance of being lifelong contributors to society."

Jaciel Keltgen
Assistant Professor

Junior Luke Jessen, a member of the survey, editing and presentation teams on the project, agreed.

“Augustana instills excellence into students that businesses are eager to take advantage of when working on projects like this,” he said.

The class’ final recommendations included specific action steps like “offer free informational sessions,” “create specific healthcare insurance plans for millennials,” “pay attention to social trends” and “optimize online presence.”

The class visited Avera officials in May where Olson, Turner and Jessen presented the project on their behalf. The health provider was impressed. Avera plans to continue researching millennial attitudes and behaviors toward health insurance coverage, using the research from MillenniCare as its foundation.

The students are grateful they have been given this opportunity to serve others.

“Had I not been at Augustana, this project would have been difficult to complete. Many colleges focus their research efforts on the natural sciences, but at Augustana, I have had the opportunity to conduct research in business, psychology, sociology, and communications courses,” Olson said. “Augustana has shaped me into a leader.”

Turner agreed, saying Augustana’s focus on liberal arts and support of a holistic approach to education gives students the foundation to research in any area of study.

“Augustana definitely challenges you to learn more. Professors here know how to push you to be the best you can be, and I don’t think that is something you find at every school,” she said.

Olson, Turner and Jessen are continuing their marketing education this summer as they each complete internships in Sioux Falls – Olson at Vance Thompson Vision; Turner at SDN Communications; and Jessen at Lawrence & Schiller.

MillenniCare seems to be the first step of a positive future for this talented class.

– Jake Shama ’14