By Principal Analyst, Heather O’Leary
Generation Z is different from any other population of college students. Shaped by social media, technology, and the deepest recession since the Great Depression, the population of students born after 1995 is marketing savvy, heavily influenced by other Gen Zers’ opinions, and value-conscious.
With the first wave of Generation Z students hitting college campuses last year, we now have compelling data and insights about this population. Here’s what you need to know:
1. Outcomes matter more than cost.
Contrary to popular belief, Gen Z cares more about the outcomes of college than about affordability. Eduventures’ annual Prospective Student Survey asks over 10,000 college-bound students about the importance of various key factors in their decision-making. Here is how Gen Z answered:
2. The era of the helicopter parent is ending.
Our annual Survey of Admitted Students found that Generation Z is less reliant on their parents’ advice when deciding where to enroll than their millennial predecessors, and that trend is continuing:
3. Peers matter more.
In the era of Facebook and crowdsourcing, it shouldn’t be surprising that Generation Z is turning to each other—even those they don’t know—more often than to higher education experts such as admissions or guidance counselors. As such, the same business-as-usual approach that colleges and universities use in recruiting students is no longer enough.
What this means for college leaders:
- Colleges need to engage in a dialogue with prospective students about what matters most to them. As demonstrated above, our research of the college-bound market found that preparation for career opportunities is increasingly important to prospective students, surpassing academic strength and affordability as their primary enrollment driver. Students are choosing schools that they believe will reward their investments of time and money with strong career outcomes in both the short-and long-term.
- Your current students are critically important to recruiting your future students. Generation Z knows it is a coveted target market and has learned from an early age not to take marketing messages at face value. This cynical view, plus their willingness to trust the opinions of their peer group, leads today’s prospective students to be most influenced by those who are living the experience, rather than guidance counselors, admissions officers, or other traditional experts. Rather than fighting this trend, colleges should look for ways to promote engagement—whether online or in-person—between current and prospective students. Encouraging current students to blog or Instagram their college experience and participate in chats provides prospective students with the information they crave the most.
- Helicopter parents may be less common, but you still have lots of catching up to do in engaging parents. According to our survey of over 1,500 parents of prospective students, more than two-thirds say they either direct or act as 50-50 partners in their child’s college search process. While we have been talking for years about parents’ importance in the college search process, most clients we work with still struggle to develop a strategy to effectively engage parents through their website and communication plan. Parents are just as pragmatic as their children about the outcomes they seek from a college education, but will respond to different types of messages. Having parent-focused communications and resources will go a long way in reinforcing your value proposition to them, along with students.
To learn more about Generation Z and the implications for colleges and universities, please listen to our complimentary webinar Generation Z: Encouraging Disruption.
What to learn more? Contact a member of our team to learn how we help clients connect with Generation Z.