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How to communicate financial information to Gen Z students

March 2, 2022

Jacqueline Gatlin

Bursar, University of Colorado Denver | Anschutz Medical Campus

Melissa Dingman

Director of Scholarship and Financial Aid, Minnesota State University Moorhead

The views and opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views or opinions of EAB.

Communicating with Gen Z students about how to be financially responsible in college is as elusive as booming budgets in higher ed. As those of us in the financial aid, student accounts, bursars, and scholarships offices have experienced, many forms of communication previously used are no longer effective. Students do not read emails. Phone numbers are not accurate, and if they are, students seldom answer. Layer in family dynamics, public thought on the rising costs of higher ed and, oh yes, a pandemic, and it is no wonder that finding effective communication tools has proved impossible.

As professionals, we understand the importance of communicating financial responsibilities. Institutions need the revenue, students do not want additional barriers like tuition holds, and overall, the retention of students is often tied to financial outcomes. Student finances can be confusing, especially for first-generation students and students from lower socio-economic backgrounds.

We also know that students often receive ‘just in time’ information in response to other aspects of being a student. For example, students have Learning Management Systems like Canvas, Moodle, and D2L,which support academic communications but leave other student services out of the loop. Current Gen Z students learn “ambiently, picking up information from multiple sources such as friends, family, and social media” and not utilizing traditional communication methods. (Chronicle)

So how can we support our students in navigating their financial responsibilities? We need to understand how they learn. EHL Insights suggests a model that utilizes four different methods that we could extrapolate into financial communications.

  1. Provide assignments in multiple formats (website text, how-to guides, videos, text messages, paper mailings, social media, etc.)
  2. Allow personal devices in the classroom (offer direct support on how to access student portal; download apps for student loan servicer, FAFSA, banking)
  3. Personalize the lessons (ensure content is relevant to the student and families)
  4. Offer chat and/or help (provide extra support outside phone and email options)

Once an institution knows how students learn, steps can be taken to gather key stakeholders from across campus and perform a detailed assessment of the current communication landscape. An institution can create a timeline and inventory of current communications and communication methods, review policies and deadlines for the campus, and assess any gaps or identify strengths using the model above. It is essential to incorporate parents and guardians where appropriate, include personalized messaging, and integrate technology to help overcome financial and accessibility barriers.

After effective communication has been established, further outreach can become more nuanced and customer service friendly. Communication can empathize with challenges students and families face financially and promote student development and growth instead of taking on a punitive nature (such as SAP letters and tuition appeals).

Lastly, institutions should continue to utilize data for decision making and outreach and automate processes across multiple offices to limit the red tape and confusion. Financial departments should gain access to Orientation, First Year Program classes and events, and other large-scale student-facing events. These strategies will help support all students, but our current Generation Z students most certainly.

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