Generation Z students are tech-savvy, entrepreneurial and socially aware — and though most contemporary language still refers to them as millennials, it is actually Gen Z students who are coming to campus this fall.
As these students make their way to campus, here are some important things to consider:
Put an increased emphasis on high-touch, personalized approach — even online
Recent research shows this group of students prefers to communicate in person rather than by email or phone. On social media and digital channels, they want to be personally engaged and recognized as individuals.These students thrive on communication and collaboration, which underscores the importance of ditching the traditional lecture in favor of a more interactive, collaborative classroom structure that educators at the University of Maryland call “the future of education.”
This type of teaching requires more preparation by students and instructors. Learners will have to do more reading before the class period because professors can’t cover as much material in an interactive class, and faculty members will have to spend more time crafting lessons that are engaging and interactive.
Though online enrollment numbers continue to climb, with data showing three in 10 students now take at least one online course in their college career, this preference shows a need for a more high-touch, personalized approach to online learning. This is why rumors the U.S. Department of Education is planning to rollback Clinton-era standards requiring "regular and substantive interaction" between students and their professors over at least half of students’ time in online classes, or for half of students in an online class are problematic.
There will likely be more protests
The new generation of students is demanding more information and accountability about their institutions’ investments and funders. They are more vocal about demanding racial and gender equity — and populist movements in social media and otherwise empower them to push on these issues. And as the student population becomes increasingly black and brown and lower income, these students are bringing their perspectives with them to campus and looking to their college experience to change some of the negative realities they have experienced or witnessed first-hand in their communities.
Recent research from Georgetown University’s Free Speech Project found the campus free speech “crisis” is overblown and manufactured: there is not the intolerance for conservative ideas on college campuses that the public discourse over higher education would suggest. However, though the number of clashes over conservative ideals is overblown, students are increasingly coming to campus ready to enact change and go after archaic university policies. However, though there will likely be more protests over a wide-ranging group of topics, college leaders should see this as a positive, not a negative, and take the opportunity to turn the protests into a teachable moment.
Flexibility is key
Data show that Gen Z students value flexibility over just about anything else — and as higher education as a whole does not have a reputation for being particularly flexible, this is particularly important to note. Some institutions are doing a good job of providing a more flexible experience, working to provide smooth on and off ramps to allow students to enter into higher education, obtain a credential to go back into the workplace and return smoothly when they are ready to secure the next level of education.
Beyond just stackable credentials, however, students may value the opportunity to piece together different curricular blocks to build their own degree programs, or at least flexibility to transfer in credits already earned when they want to change schools or change majors within the same institution. A recent analysis in Houston found students may take upwards of 30 credits more than they need to graduate, often because these credits do not count towards program requirements when they make a shift. As a result, institutions in the city are joining together to create guided pathways to help smooth the transition points for these students and simplify the pathway to completion.