Gen Z, the digital generation, non-traditional students, and potentially many more descriptions have been used to label the current postsecondary body of students, but what may not be so evident is exactly how much their preferences, lifestyles and experiences have radically changed from even a decade ago.

And it’s these large changes that are critical for colleges and universities not just to take notice of now, but also to anticipate what students and their needs may look like in 2027.

1. The “Traditional” 4-Year Experience is Rare for Most

According to adaptive course solutions provider Knewton’s survey of users and clients, “college today only vaguely resembles what it looked like 20, 10, or even five years ago…serving a more diverse student population than ever before,” and the skills being taught are for jobs that never before existed.

First time college-goers are on the rise, in part, because a high school diploma no longer cuts it in today’s knowledge-based economy.

An infographic by Knewton notes that 20 million students attend American colleges each year, and of these students:

  • 1 in 5 is at least 30 years old
  • 2 in 5 attend 2-year community colleges
  • 36 percent of community college students are 1st-genetation college-goers

And with the cost of college—combined with this more economically-diverse student body—more and more students are attending part time (37 percent) so they can balance work and school.

Also, with an increase in students attending college, more are entering higher education at varied levels. According to Knewton:

  • In 1 year, over half a million families have to pay $1.5 billion and borrow over $380 million for remedial coursework
  • The dropout risk for 4-year-degree-seeking students who need remediation is 74 percent worse than non-remedial students
  • Only 60 percent of student who start a 4-year college graduate within 6 years
  • 2/3 of adults who return to college after a year away don’t graduate
  • 2 in 3 students have loan defaults that are for $10K or less

(Next page: New challenges; new ways college students are learning)


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