As Gen Z goes to college, these fiscally pragmatic, skeptical, and optimistic students are forcing institutions to re-think recruitment, graduation, and everything in between. Born between the mid-1990s and 2010s, campuses have already seen the “cuspers” of Generation Z—those likeliest to share characteristics with their Millennial predecessors and provide a preview of the generational mindset to come.
Born: mid-1990s to early-2010s
Size of population: Slightly smaller than Millennials; Approximately 67 million in the US (20% of population); Approximately 6.8 million in Canada (18% of population)
Core traits: Fiscally pragmatic; skeptical of authority/institutions; optimistic about their abilities; socially progressive; safety-obsessed
Generation-defining events: The Great Recession; Introduction of the smart phone; Supreme Court ruling on marriage equality; Black Lives Matter; #MeToo; mass shootings
As the core of the Gen Z cohort begins to arrive, colleges and universities are taking stock of the needs of this generation and how to support their success. In our conversations with chief student affairs officers, four trends emerged.
How to adapt to support Gen Z student success
Gen Z is optimistic and eager to learn, but campuses will need student affairs leaders’ expertise in student development to effectively recruit, support, and graduate this new generation. Through this research, we set out to identify what was shaping Gen Z to give leaders insight into how they may need to adapt to serve this generation of students. There are many things that shape students’ mindsets and expectations, but five forces rose to the top in our research because they present both opportunities to harness their influence and significant challenges for student affairs divisions.
The New Generation of Students
The Chronicle of Higher Education
Throughout our 2019-2020 national meeting series, we shared these five forces with more than 130 student affairs leaders to get their insights on how these forces have and will continue to influence their work as Gen Z dominates campuses for the decade. Click through each force below to read more about how it shapes Gen Z’s mindset and how leaders are feeling the effects on campus.
Impact of Gen Z’s mindset on campus
Gen Z culture of cost-consciousness has made this generation consider total cost of attendance very important to their college choice.
As digital natives, the relationship between gen z and social media has shaped expectations and formed challenges for student affairs and across campus.
Gen Z values emphasizing transparency and authenticity means they expect more information and input on institutional decisions. Meeting students’ expectations for transparency and access to decision-makers requires more dedicated time from top leaders across the institution.
Students expect to see their Gen Z demographics reflected in higher ed staff, programs, services, curriculum, and fellow students. Leaders must remove barriers to equity and include diverse identities in the classroom and the curriculum.
Institutions must develop campus-wide strategies to promote gen z mental health as the volume and severity of mental health issues continues to rise.
More resources on Gen Z students
Your Generation Z students will be the most diverse generation to date and on track to be the most educated, according to the Pew Research Center.
To keep higher education leaders up to speed on evolving tastes, this article unpacks the food industry trends that inform Gen Z tastes.
Tech, business services, and finance dominate Gen Z students' list of dream jobs, according to a new study by Glassdoor.
After growing up during the Great Recession and watching their Millennial predecessors struggle with massive student loan burdens, Generation Z students' pragmatism is playing out on community college campuses across the nation.