Generation Z Goes to College


A new report from the Chronicle of Higher Education explores the next generation of college students: Generation Z. Also called iGen or post-millennials, the new generation has different needs and interests than the Millennials that came before. “The New Generation of Students: How Colleges Can Recruit, Teach, and Serve Gen Z” is written by Jeff Selingo, a long-time observer of higher education. Selingo is the author of three books, a contributing writer at the Washington Post and The Atlantic, and a professor of practice and special advisor at Arizona State University. He is also a visiting scholar at Georgia Tech’s Center for 21st Century Universities.

The Pew Research Center defines anyone born after 1997 as part of this “next generation.” Technology, Pew says, will define the generation.

The implications of growing up in an “always on” technological environment are only now coming into focus. Recent research has shown dramatic shifts in youth behaviors, attitudes and lifestyles – both positive and concerning – for those who came of age in this era. What we don’t know is whether these are lasting generational imprints or characteristics of adolescence that will become more muted over the course of their adulthood. Beginning to track this post-Millennial generation over time will be of significant importance.

Selingo’s report picks up on this theme. Selingo says,

Gen Z — shaped by the Great Recession and the reign of the smartphone and social media — marks a break from even the recent past. Today’s students are more skeptical and money conscious, interested in an education they can apply and focused on the value of a degree. Technology is indispensable to them but not always a net positive, and they may need more in the way of personal development than their predecessors did.

This generation will present many challenges to universities. There are fewer members of Generation Z than there are Millennials, which means colleges will compete to attract a dwindling number of qualified high school graduates. Gen Z’s focus on value might encourage institutions to take a hard look at the price of tuition and the job prospects their graduates face after leaving school.

The report includes sections on recruiting Generation Z students, teaching them, and changes to campus life that Generation Z will need or demand. A video promoting the report explains that for this generation, “services are the new amenities.” The report asserts that Gen Z “may need more in the way of personal development than their predecessors did.”

Generation Z seems to want it all: value, high return on investment, lots of choices, plenty of technology, and unprecedented levels of campus service. Universities will be hard pressed to meet the demands of these modern students.

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