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What Higher Ed Needs to Know About Gen Z

January 15, 2020

The class of 2019 is the latest group of Millennials to graduate college. Next up is Generation Z (Gen Z). The Pew Research Center defines Gen Z as those born between 1997 and 2012. In 2020, Gen Z individuals will range in age between 7 and 22 years old. What do higher education institutions need to know about this new class of prospective students?

One of the unique qualities of Gen Z is that they are the first generation of true digital natives. They are often cited as the communication generation because they have had access to information and social media their entire lives. Gen Z has never known a world without mobile phones or the internet. Unlike previous generations, their use of technology is seamlessly integrated into their everyday lives.

Gen Z has grown up primarily during an economic downturn and is more frugal than their Millennial counterparts. They have seen their parents navigate uncertain economic times and watched as Millennials acquired unprecedented student debt. As a result, Gen Z is reevaluating the costs and benefits of a traditional education and is open to pursuing alternative paths.

7 Ways Gen Z Differs from Gen X

Let’s take a closer look at how Gen Z differs from Millennials.

1. Gen Z Uses More Screens
Millennials generally use two screens each day, while Gen Z uses up to five screens per day.

2. Gen Z Has a Shorter Attention Span

Gen Z’s attention span is around eight seconds, versus Millennials’ 12 seconds.

3. Gen Z Spends More Time Online

Gen Z spends nearly 10 hours online every day, while Millennials spend approximately 7.5 hours online.

4. Gen Z Prioritizes Stability and Money

Gen Z tends to be more frugal because individuals grew up in uncertain economic times. Generally, they value their ability to make and save money. In fact, 65 percent of Gen Z employees value salary over other job perks. Those in the age group also say they will invest in skills training if it means they can make more money.

5. Gen Z Prefers Mobile Shopping

Gen Z is two times more likely to make an online purchase through their mobile devices than Millennials. Gen Z demands efficient and hassle-free processes from beginning to end.

6. Gen Z Evaluates Brands Holistically

Gen Z no longer forms opinions of brands solely based on the quality of their products or services; they consider a brand’s ethics, practices, and social impact.

7. Gen Z Responds Differently to Advertising and Branded Content

Gen Z often learns about products through social media-based videos and influencer marketing, while Millennials will respond to a variety of promotional strategies including more traditional online ads, social media marketing, and branded podcasts.

Are Institutions Ready for This New Student?

The difference in attitudes between Millennials and Gen Z are significant. Institutions need to adjust their recruitment, onboarding, and communications strategies to embrace this new generation of students. Here are some tips.

  • Amp Up Online Communications With Gen Z Students
    With Gen Z spending up to 10 hours a day online, using five different screens, and having shortened attention spans, the most effective way for institutions to communicate with prospective students through online channels with short messages. Students should be given the option of using various messaging apps and online chat.
  • Become a Mobile-First Institution
    Gen Z has grown up using smartphones and other smart devices. Institutions must embrace a mobile-first mentality, which means applications were developed with smaller, more intelligent devices in mind. Institutions need to offer students user-friendly applications to access data.
  • Develop Programs for Workforce Readiness
    Gen Z values the ability to get a job and make money. In addition to academic learning, institutions should develop practical programs that include experiential learning that can help students prepare better for the workforce.
  • Consistently Reinforce Core Values
    Institutions need to remind students, potential students, and alumni of their core values on a regular basis. The Rule of Seven still applies in the digital age; institutions need to engage with audiences multiple times for individuals to take notice and remember the message.
  • Develop Multi-Channel Recruitment Strategies
    Gen Z is comfortable connecting with peers online using all forms of social media. Institutions need to embrace social channels and highlight student culture to build community among prospective and current students.

Going into 2020 and beyond, institutions need to consider Gen Z and adopt new methodologies, tools, and practices in order to attract and retain the new student.

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