Gen Z is about to take over higher education—here’s what to expect

Survey finds digital natives “Gen Z” set to reshape higher ed landscape with focus on careers, dependence on technology.

Educators take note: it’s time to make way for Generation Z (Gen Z).

In a recent study by Barnes & Noble College, 1,300 middle-school and high school students ages 13-18 from 49 different states shared their attitudes, preferences and expectations regarding their educational and learning experiences. The findings from the study are clear: Gen Z is significantly different than previous generations, and these students will bring both challenges and opportunities for the future of higher education.

Perhaps contrary to some perceptions, this next generation of students sees a higher education degree as extremely valuable, with 89 percent rating its value as “very high.” Unlike Millennials, who pursue personal fulfillment more widely than financial goals or job titles, Gen Z values college most as a means to secure a good job. It stands to reason then that their number one concern is whether or not they will be able to find that good job after graduation.

This generation seeks to “have it all” in their careers, with 42 percent describing their future careers as “suiting their specific interests.” Their career choices also are quite different than current college-aged students: they tend to envision careers in technology, such as computer science and video game development, whereas Millennials are more likely to seek careers in the fields of health/medical and education.

Gen Z is also very entrepreneurial – almost 13 percent already have their own business, and an additional 22 percent plan to own a business in the future. The Internet plays a major role in this aspirational shift, breaking down the walls of possibilities for young students to create and sustain their own businesses.

The study found that these teens have a sincere love of learning. They thrive when they are challenged and allowed to be engaged in their education – more than half of the students learn best by doing. Empowered by the Internet, they are remarkably independent and self-reliant, and are comfortable researching, discovering and self-educating through YouTube DIY videos and online learning platforms like Skillshare and Udemy. They are prepared to make their own decisions based on the information they find – a characteristic that is quite different from Millennials, who typically rely more on friends and family.

(Next page: Gen Z’s massive reliance on technology)

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