gen z

#2: 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.

[Editor’s note: This story, originally published on January 7th of this year, was our #2 most popular story of the year. The countdown continues tomorrow with #1, so be sure to check back!]

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)

With Gen Z being a generation of “digital natives,” it stands to reason that the future of educational technology is now. Technology is embraced almost universally by Gen Z. In fact, the students surveyed shared that they are apt to regularly use five different computer tools for their social and educational purposes: laptops, desktops, tablets, smartphones and video game consoles.

Unlike Millennials, who have broadly adopted technology, Gen Z has adopted a technology-centric lifestyle. They define themselves in online, digital terms. Gen Z doesn’t distinguish between devices or online territories. It is one continuous, multi-faceted, completely integrated experience – connecting social, academic and professional interests.

While traditional textbooks remain ubiquitous in schools, teens in this survey now report that teachers are using more educational technology tools to facilitate learning, with four in 10 citing the use of Smartboards, digital textbooks, online videos and learning websites such as Khan Academy and Skillshare in the classroom.

Gen Z also has different learning style preferences from past generations. While they are very into DIYL (do-it-yourself-learning), these students also embrace peer-to-peer learning, with 80 percent reporting that they study with their friends and classmates. Fifty percent said they enjoy the element of leadership it presents, and 60 percent reported that it gives them the perfect way to exchange ideas and consider new perspectives.

This collaborative studying isn’t just happening in-person – technologies such as Skype, Facetime, chat/IM, Facebook and other online tools are being used to help foster group studying online as well. Whereas one may say the Internet has created a user-generated society, Gen Z is taking it to another level by engaging in the co-construction of knowledge, and likely the co-construction of their educational content in the future.

As this new generation makes its way to college campuses across the country, it’s more important than ever for college administrators to be aware of these unique preferences and expectations. And as recruiting and retaining students becomes more and more competitive, meeting these preferences and expectations will be vital for their success.

Click here to view Barnes & Noble College’s full report, “Getting to Know Gen Z: Exploring Middle and High Schoolers’ Expectations for Higher Education.”

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