By Mark Sklarow, CEO, IECA
It seems like just yesterday when admission reps and independent educational consultants rushed out to attend workshops and seminars to better understand millennials—roughly those students born from 1977 to 1995. Those students are now close to ending their college careers and are firmly established in the workplace. Their quirks, priorities, focus, and work style are something we baby boomers and gen Xers are now seeing up close: they are our coworkers and, increasingly, our bosses.
Today for those working in educational fields, it’s all about generation Z, the children born after 1995. They are our school-age clients and our college seekers. And they have grown up in a very different United States. It has been said that millennials were products of the September 11, 2001 attacks and the economic crashes that shaped much of their world. They grew up adapting to changing technologies and have been the early adopters of each innovation.
Generation Z knows about 9/11 only as a historical date. They seem unable to grasp its defining nature for so many of us. Social scientists indicate that the best way to understand this group is through three aspects: parenting, technology, and economics.
Millennials were often superficially described as the most self-absorbed, dependent, and economically flailing generation. They continue to search for the perfect job, highest salary, and acclaimed social life despite often coming into direct conflict with the realities of the world. Young people in generation Z are seen as hard working, anxious, and focused on the future. You can see the generational changes broadly depicted in Haley, a millennial, and Alex, a generation Z, on the ABC show Modern Family.
Given the sharp turn from the life and desires of millennials, schools, colleges, and IECA members should be certain to treat this new generation as distinct. But most experts think that educational institutions are stuck—i.e., assuming that this new cohort will behave similarly to their older brethren. In Generation Z Goes to College, authors Corey Seemiller and Meghan Grace (Jossey-Bass 2016) warn institutions that they must change to meet the needs of this group of young people.
After all, generation Z is the first generation native to a digital and online world. Consider that to them such things as appointment television (watching a show at a fixed time), maps, and house phones are antiquated. They have known only two presidents. They have overly involved parents. They can be more judgmental than millennials, believing in individual responsibility and independence, and their mastery of information technology leads them to believe they CAN solve it all. If millennials were the “me generation,” Zs demonstrate loyalty to others and a genuine concern about the world around them. IECs should find it important that a clear majority of generation Z students are open-minded about educational options and about the diversity of their classmates.
Serving the needs of and appealing to the high expectations of generation Z students will require every admissions and counseling office to rethink their messaging. At the spring IECA conference in Denver, CO, Cory Seemiller, one of the authors of Generation Z Goes to College, will be one of our major speakers and help members explore the issue further and prepare for the Z invasion.