Traditionally, college was a rite of passage – you find a program you like, enrol after high school, complete your degree, and get a job. Students went through routines that were unchanged for many years like applying for scholarships, funding, and grants, making the traditional campus visit, making friends with their dorm mates, and trying to make it to class in between all their extracurricular activities. All this, naturally, with a slight update to the process with each generation.
Members of Gen Z—loosely, people born from 1995 to 2010, the majority of the population entering college, have a different mindset to the generations preceding it. The immense digital interconnectedness that this generation has along with the hardships it has faced during the pandemic means that it knows what it wants and isn’t afraid to ask for it.
Universities would do well to take note of what Gen Z wants from the entire college experience beyond curricula to stay relevant and to attract the brightest students.
- Career-Focus is Important
Gen Z has experienced first-hand social inequalities and job insecurities brought to the fore by the pandemic. This has made them rethink what they want from their degrees. A study by the Educational Credit Management Corporation (ECMC) found that 74% of Gen Z students prefer STEM or STEM-related degrees that help them develop the skills they need to gain stable employment. You can read more about this here.
Demonstrating a clear career path after a course of study can help universities attract students.
- Student Debt is a Worry
A survey of millennials and Gen Z by Deloitte found that two-thirds of the two generations agreed that their financial situations were a cause of stress and worry. Another survey of young American Gen Zers found that 73% were looking for more affordable colleges to avoid debt. Tuition fees and loan structures need to be more transparent, so students know exactly what it is they are paying for.
- Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion are Vital
Deloitte found that diversity and inclusion is an issue that is at the forefront of Gen Z’s minds with six in 10 of those surveyed stating that systemic racism is widespread in society. This is a generation that also looks at individuality very strongly and is more accepting of gender fluidity than the ones before it. They want to see their institutions act beyond simply issuing statements regarding their stance on the issue. While staff turnover, and hiring needs, do not change as fast as student bodies, universities can address issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion by creating departments that take active initiatives to progress towards more equitable societies.
- Mental Health Services are a Necessity
The pandemic has meant that Gen Z is keenly aware that overall wellbeing constitutes both physical and mental health. While mental health has been stigmatized in the past, this generation is more likely to speak up regarding issues surrounding it. The Department of Higher Ed found that although 45% of students were likely to speak to a friend or a mentor for support, mental health services are likely to see an increase in students seeking clinical services for mental health support on campuses.
A strong student support program, along with training faculty members to provide support when approached by students can benefit them.
- Rethinking Digital Student Experiences
Administration: Gen Z is a digitally connected generation and expects most information to be available at the click of a button. While traditional divisions in university administration may require students to speak to financial aid, the registrar, and the bursar to sort a funding issue, bringing these under one roof can help enhance the student experience. Similarly, making campus maps and planned campus activities available to students via an app on their smartphones can help enhance the student experience.
Hybrid Learning: After the pandemic, digital learning is never going to go away. While students still want an on-campus experience where they can interact in person with their professors and peers, they expect digital learning to be a part of their experience. Digital whiteboards and other ed tech tools are examples of what Gen Z students want reports Barnes and Noble College. Recorded lessons with in-person sessions for discussions and debates are other examples of how this can be achieved. Gamified learning and digital textbooks can enhance the student learning experience.
Digital Shopping: True digital natives, Gen Z is used to shopping online. It’s no different when it comes to looking for a college as the findings from a survey by Niche demonstrate. A strong social media presence along with interactive tools like live chats are all appealing to potential students.
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2021 Survey of Juniors Searching for College, Niche, 2021, https://www.niche.com/about/enrollment-insights/2021-survey-of-juniors-searching-for-college/
A Call For Accountability And Action, The Deloitte Global 2021 Millennial And Gen Z Survey, Deloitte, 2021, https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/global/Documents/2021-deloitte-global-millennial-survey-report.pdf
Getting to Know Gen Z – Exploring Middle and High Schoolers’ Expectations for Higher Education, Barnes & Noble College, 2018, https://partnerships.bncollege.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/Barnes-Noble-College-Gen-Z-Report.pdf
QuestionTheQuo, Educational Credit Management Corporation (ECMC), https://questionthequo.org/, accessed February 2022.
Young Americans & College Survey, Ameritrade, 2019, https://s2.q4cdn.com/437609071/files/doc_news/research/2019/young-americans-and-college-survey.pdf