Differentiating short-format program design to meet generational preferences

Expert Insight

Differentiating short-format program design to meet generational preferences

From 2008 to 2012, 1.4 million college graduates suffered from unemployment or underemployment due to the recession. Today, the coronavirus’ impact on the economy is leading to what might be the next “lost class” of bachelor’s degree graduates. Millennials made up the original “lost class,” but Generation Z is now emerging as the group that is most affected by today’s pandemic. Below, we profile the biggest differences between the recession’s “lost class” and today’s “lost class,” and how to best serve these unique populations.

Millennials seek flexible, accelerated programs for busy lives

As many millennials first entered the job market in the midst of the Great Recession, a 2012 study from Pew Research revealed that about half of millennials had taken a job they didn’t want just so they could pay the bills, a quarter took an unpaid job to gain experience, and about 35 percent returned to school as a result of the poor economy. Many of millennials’ life choices, future earnings, and entrance to adulthood have been shaped by their experience of the recession.

To serve millennials who have struggled to find jobs and want additional education to help them pursue fruitful careers, institutions must cater to prospective students who may never have the time or money to enroll in a full degree program.

Institutions can accomplish this by condensing the top lessons of semester-long degree courses into short modules packaged within accelerated leadership programs. The University of Richmond has looked toward high-performing degrees (e.g., finance, marketing, project management) for inspiration in creating an accelerated mini MBA program that covers critical content for working adults at a fraction of the cost and time of a full degree.

Courses condensed for maximum impact

Source: EAB interviews and analysis

Generation Z seeks industry-aligned learning with concrete ROI

Unlike millennials who were thrust into the workforce at the height of the recession, members of Gen Z watched from their parents’ homes as their millennial counterparts dealt with the student loan crisis and a stagnant economy. This has made them more cautious spenders, skeptical of authority and institutions, and more risk-averse. These tech-immersed students reject mass marketing in favor of personalized appeals, but despite their social media usage, they are also the loneliest generation.

While millennials lack time for full-time programs due to family responsibilities, most members of Gen Z have not started families, allowing for more flexibility to dive into intensive programs. To serve these students, consider offering bootcamps that mimic some of the most appealing elements of successful programs like General Assembly.

These intensive short-term programs teach in-demand skills, build professional networks, and offer flexible tuition repayment options. For example, GA offers several repayment options, one even halts payment until the student has received a job with a salary of $40,000 or more. Other providers have introduced income-share agreements to allow students to enroll without paying upfront. Institutions should consider offering generous payment options for these types of programs to market long-term value to ROI-conscious students, and should also emphasize industry-aligned curricula to students looking for experiential learning opportunities.

Engage with senior citizens, even early retirees

As more institutions consider their role in providing lifelong learning opportunities, Arizona State University has created a new residence hall to house retired people. The ASU Mirabella allows retirees to live on campus and participate in aspects of the college experience. In addition to auditing courses, residents can mentor students, attend cultural events, and use campus facilities like the library and gym. Project completion is scheduled for August 2020, and though not yet open, ASU has already filled all available units.

ASU’s Mirabella Project creates an on-campus retirement community with a twist


Senior Class Audits

Few senior citizens complete degrees but can have wide interest in one-off courses and topics

Receive University ID for “Student” Activities

Residency provides access to university events, library, and even on-campus dining options

Health Services and Amenities for a Spectrum of Needs

Apartments range from independent living to round-the-clock care

Complex will include fine dining, a cocktail lounge, fitness center, and art gallery

Source: “Retirees to Embrace Campus Life.” Inside Higher Ed, January 2019. EAB interviews and analysis.

Though costs are hardly “access-oriented”

  • $380K minimum upfront payment for a 1-bedroom apartment

  • $4K minimum monthly, all-inclusive access fee

What could this captive audience do for you?

  • Mentor current students
  • Serve as adjunct faculty
  • Donate money or estates to the institution
  • Consult on program development

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