4 changes colleges are making to adapt to Gen Z

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4 changes colleges are making to adapt to Gen Z

Even though they were born just a few years later than their millennial predecessors, the members of Gen Z are a distinctive bunch. Aside from being the first true “digital natives,” they’re ambitious, open-minded, and—having witnessed the rockiest part of the Great Recession—financially savvy.

That’s why colleges are transforming how they teach and serve Gen Z students, writes Laura Pappano for the New York Times. Here are four changes colleges and universities are making to accommodate their Gen Z population:

1: They’re treating students as individuals

Gen Z is a generation that “has been sold a lot of stuff,” explains Corey Seemiller, a professor at Wright State University and co-author of Generation Z Goes to College. So Gen Zers are perceptive consumers who crave “authenticity and transparency.”

Consequently, colleges are learning to individualize communication with students and customize their learning experience. At Wright State, Seemiller tailors the course content she puts online to accommodate Gen Z students’ learning preferences, and keeps in mind that they “do not like to learn in groups.” 

2: They’re embracing (and requiring) technology on campus

Gen Zers have grown up with technology and often rely on their devices for both information and communication. To meet them where they are, Ohio State University issued iPads to 11,000 incoming students this year to use in “iPad required” courses and to help students navigate campus. The university is in the process of building an app that includes maps and bus routes, customized course planners and schedules, and information for getting involved in student organizations.

Technology is also embraced in the classroom. Nicole Kraft, a professor at Ohio State, takes attendance via Twitter, posts assignments on Slack, and holds virtual office hours at night through Zoom

The future of higher ed is digital. And physical.

3: They’re not making assumptions

Gen Zers are more focused than their millennial predecessors on learning skills that translate directly to the workplace. Kraft ensures her students learn basic professional skills, like writing “proper” emails. She also makes a point to teach her students how to best use the technology they are given, because—contrary to stereotypes—not all Gen Zers are tech wizards: “We make a lot of assumptions about what they know how to do,” she says.

4: They’re adapting to tech-based communication and social media

While younger generations are often criticized for being tethered to their devices, college leaders know that technology can be advantageous for connecting students and faculty. That’s why Princeton University‘s office of the dean of undergraduate students turned to social media to relay campus updates to students, who don’t always open email.

Using witty hashtags and slang, the office is expanding their reach and amplifying student interactions. “Social media has helped me get a lot more prepared for Princeton,” says one student who scrolled through photos and videos of campus before arriving at the university. “I thought, ‘That will be on my Instagram page in four years'” (Pappano, New York Times, 8/2).

Learn more: What Gen Z wants from college search, in their own words

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