The Ultimate Guide to Understanding Gen-Z Students

The incoming class of 2017 is the last one born in the 1990’s. That is a quirky statistic, aimed at pleasing instead of illuminating the mind. Behind it lurks a larger trend, however: in two years, the incoming class will have been born into a post-9/11 world, shaped by different attitudes, distinct behaviors, and unique challenges. Is higher education prepared for Generation Z?

Generation Who?

Generation Z – typically, described as those born post-1995 – are the current generation of college-bound students, with the oldest already entering the workforce. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Gen Z makes up 25% of the population, outnumbering Millennials and Baby Boomers, with an annual consumption of $44 billion.

“Here’s a starting point: Gen-Z are NOT millennials.”

As educators, how much do we really know about them? Here’s a starting point: Gen-Z are NOT millennials. They were born with the internet at their fingertips and are extremely comfortable with rapidly evolving technology. Their use of social media depicted below shows vastly different preferences from millennials:

Social Media Platform

Image courtesy: Collage Group http://collagegroup.com/2016/08/26/social-media-platforms-gen-z-millennials-love/

There is a marked decrease in Facebook usage (only 11% compared to 34% among Millennials) and significantly larger share of YouTube, Snapchat and Instagram usage. Gen-Z students find Facebook too public and would rather engage directly with close friends (Snap) or browse content (YouTube/Instagram).

Suddenly, making a Facebook page for Student Life or residence activities seems like a strategy for the previous generation, right? It’s time to re-think student engagement.

Educating a New Generation of Students:

  1. Their relationship with information is fundamentally different from previous generations. Instead of seeking it out, information is surfaced to them – in an immediate, personal and contextualized form. (Think: in-app push-notifications) As a result, when they are looking for co-curricular activities on campus, they are going to spend minimal effort searching for them. It must be delivered to them in a timely and accurate manner in order to be best received.
  2. Generation Z has different expectations towards entrepreneurship and their careers. Being a generation that values experiences, cares about the environment and is pragmatic about their approach into the workforce. When developing career fairs and internships, it is important to keep in mind that traditional roles and industries may not appeal to them in the same manner. Consider open houses at start-ups, more workshops on starting a business and connecting them with like-minded mentors.
  3. From an academic standpoint, their learning techniques are adapting as well. Gen Z are adept researchers, aware of how to self-educate their multiple educational interests. 1 out of 3 students watch their lessons online and 32% work with their classmates online. How are we adapting our learning environments (physical and digital) to account for this growing trend?

Don’t Just Teach, Engage:

According to CMO/Adobe research, 79% of Generation Z consumers display symptoms of emotional distress when kept away from their personal electronic devices. Mobile technology is not a phenomenon with this generation – it is an inherent part of their lives. As Boomers, Gen-X, and Millennials are in positions of authority on college campuses, it is important to remember that attitudes, trends, and behaviors considered negative by prior generations may be the complete opposite in this day and age.

As The Guardian newspaper noted, “…co-creation isn’t just about working with students. It’s also about challenging preconceptions. Like [Apple, Google etc.], try getting into your students’ smartphones. But remember, it’s not all about digital developments … The ubiquity of online communications means a rare delivery through the post can have a bigger impact than ever before.”

It’s clear that institutions need to be present where students are – on their mobile devices. But we also need to think about shaping experiences, as those matter to Gen Z students. How is your institution getting ready for a new generation of students?

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About OOHLALA Mobile:

Designed with the Gen-Z student in mind, OOHLALA is the industry’s fastest-growing mobile platform, adopted at over 200 institutions. Our platform is designed to support student success by unifying campus resources — LMS, co-curricular, athletics, clubs/orgs, events and much more — within a branded, integrated, college app. (www.oohlalamobile.com)