Are universities prepared for Generation Z?

Ari Winkleman
September 9, 2019
September 19, 2019

While the world has been busy dissecting the way millennials lead their lives, the next generation is already at the cusp of adulthood. Early members of the Gen Z cohort are already in universities and are lining up to join the workforce. The big question is if the higher education industry is ready to cater to Gen Z.

 Most universities across the globe are embracing education technology and digital learning. But that is not enough to ensure the success of Gen Z students as there is more to this misunderstood generation than just being tech-savvy. Apart from stereotyping Gen Z by associating them with specific characteristics, colleges need to focus more on their problems and aspirations.

1. Student debt and financial security

Just like their predecessors, Gen Z correlates financial success to being debt-free. The trend of steep student debts burdening the lives of millennials has got Gen Z extremely worried about repaying college loans, and that is forcing the cohort to rethink their higher education aspirations. Unless universities and financial organizations find a way to make higher education affordable, the fear of student debt is going to drive Gen Z away from college.

2. Entrepreneurial dreams

According to a report, over 41 percent of Gen Z wants to embrace entrepreneurship. The dreams of being one's own boss stem partly from their independent nature, and partly due to witnessing their parents and older siblings suffer from the grind of their dead-end jobs. Colleges need to acknowledge these entrepreneurial aspirations of Gen Z and design programs that teach real-life skills, management skills, among other Gen-Z-coveted skills. After all, higher education is all about honing students’ talents so that they can fulfil their dreams.

3. Mental Health

Compared to previous generations, Gen Z is more aware of the importance of mental health and is open to having a dialogue about it. A survey states that 70 percent of Gen Z thinks depression and anxiety are major problems among today’s teens. While more and more universities are floating on-campus counselling platforms to tackle mental health issues, professors and administrators also need to be trained to respond tactfully to distressed students.

4. Time-management

Gen Z likes to explore multiple interests at once. This generation often feels hard-pressed for time, while juggling between academics, extracurriculars, part-time jobs, social media interactions, etc. Colleges with rigid learning structures need to be infused with the flexibility to help the multitasking enthusiasts of Gen Z with managing time. Universities should be open to conducting evening/weekend classes, exploring online programs, and facilitating internships that will help Gen Z with their learning process.

5. Technology-driven campus

Since birth, Gen Z has been surrounded by technology in all aspects of life. While laptops, smartphones and high-speed internet connection are essential for Gen Z to thrive in college, the academic curriculums also need to be revamped to promote learning through technology. Many universities are already investing in concepts like virtual reality, flipped and hybrid in the classroom to make learning more engaging for this cohort. 

But there’s more to a tech-driven campus than this. With rising tuition fees and dropout rates, universities need to use the power of mobile and technology to help Gen Z navigate campus life and succeed in their academic journey. Moreover, customization is the key with this group, who are wired for it on popular social networking, food and entertainment apps and they will expect it even from their institutions.  

Though universities are evolving to accommodate the needs of Gen Z, a lot is left desired to make the campus environment ideal for student success for this generation.