Generation Z, better known as Gen Z, are not like their millennial counterparts. This unique generation has their own values, expectations and concerns as they make their way through college. Driven by passion, pragmatism and the desire to be heard, these students are prepared to become the change they want to see in the world.
To better understand this new college demographic, Barnes & Noble College Insights™ spent dozens of hours speaking to students from across the country and conducting an online quantitative survey of 1,500 Gen Z students. By focusing on their values, aspirations, struggles and views, valuable insights were gained into what matters most to this student demographic and what Gen Z trends sets them apart from their predecessors.
As a demographic aged 22-years and younger, Gen Z has never known a time without technology, making them true digital natives. They devote hours a day to social media, but are on fewer social media platforms. Gen Z feels social media keeps them informed and connected to the world around them. In fact, 44 percent said social media has deepened their relationships and connections with friends and peers. However, they have learned from oversharing mistakes of previous generations.
They favor sites that allow them to create their own personal brand and value sites that offer them a sense of anonymity. Sites like SnapChat, where images disappear, or YouTube and Instagram, where images can be edited and staged to present what they want to share with the world, are Gen Z students’ favorites.
Living through the Great Recession and war on terrorism, safety has also become a top concern for Gen Z. And unlike millennials, whose parents were mostly baby boomers, Gen Z students were raised by Gen X, who passed their own concerns about safety and security onto their children and helped shape their world view.
Gen Z students want to set themselves apart from their peers and support others who do the same. A large majority of Gen Z students (86%) believe people should have the freedom to be whoever they want. This search for individualism carries over to how they want schools and companies to interact with them — and they value brands that help them express their individuality or treat them to customized experiences.
As one of the most diverse generations in history, Gen Z is comfortable with diversity and describe themselves as open-minded. They view themselves as empathetic, accepting, compassionate and kind. Ninety-one percent believe that all people are equal and that they deserve to be treated as such.
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Because of this, peer-to-peer fundraising campaigns generate student interest and participation. The Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals are working almost exclusively with Gen Z students on peer-to-peer fundraising campaigns. In 2017, their Dance Marathon events increased fundraising revenue by more than 19 percent through peer-to-peer marketing.
Gen Z students are also career-focused. While they recognize the value of education, they want assurances the money they invest will lead to a career and a better life — and want their schools to be partners in their success. That optimism carries through to their outlook about the future and career aspirations, expecting to be better off than their parents. And while financially motivated, only 15 percent would choose financial security over job satisfaction, according to a recent Ernst & Young survey.
As this new student population dominates campuses across the country, it will be even more important for colleges and universities to understand these Gen Z trends and adapt innovative strategies and programs to better support their needs and help them succeed in school and beyond.