Gen Z is the most diverse generation in US history, they value openness, inclusion, and equity. Plus, digital experiences taught them to expect the same level of personalization from their education – it should be flexible, engaging, module-based, self-directed. It’s important to understand that they aren’t lazy. When they ask “Do I need to study that?” that’s exactly what they mean. Do I need that for my future? Should I spend my cognitive resources, my time, my money on it? Will it be relevant?
They are demanding and resource-efficient, they want to be in control and can be very motivated and productive when given a degree of freedom that might have felt unreasonable earlier, where knowledge wasn’t so abundant and readily available online.
It means that instead of four-year degree programs, colleges might cater to this cohort best by offering stand-alone courses with certificates of completion like online platforms do. Coursera can serve as a typical example of such model.
There are schools that base their program on self-directed learning, like Alpine Valley School, yet both colleges and future employers aren’t yet ready to offer and accept unique sets of relevant college credits instead of wholesale degrees. Well, they should be.
Gen-Z tend to embrace their uniqueness and don’t rely on being the best at anything except being fully themselves. Indeed, if social media is anything to go by, unlike image-conscious Millennials, Gen-Z kids prefer self-deprecating jokes to creating curated glamorous versions of their lives. They embrace their insecurities and vulnerabilities and even capitalize on them (just check the top popular Youtube channels and Tumblr blogs).
High time colleges implemented some changes to address this shift in student culture – and they are definitely moving in the right direction. Mark Hatch, the vice president for enrolment at Colorado Springs institution Colorado College, says that admission officers don’t expect perfection when they vet their candidates. They are fully aware that their 18-year-old applicants are still growing and forming as students and individuals. What they look for is a personality behind the numbers of test scores, GPA and transcripts.
While kids feel very anxious about their essays, spend weeks crafting every phrase and even resorting to some alternative solutions like this one, their best call is still honesty and authenticity. Even some obvious no-nos like grammar and spelling mistakes can get a pass if your essay shows that you are honest about the driving reason behind your decision to enroll and generally, what makes you tick.
Helping students to meet tuition costs
Financial insecurity that encumbered Millennials continues to be an area of concern for Gen-Z students. On top of rocketing tuition costs, there is increasing food and housing insecurity caused by growing income inequality and the rising cost of living.
Moreover, action steps towards alleviating the financial burden of higher education are badly needed, such as reducing operational costs through energy efficiency, creating open educational resources to lower textbook costs, partnering with health care providers and facilitating federal student aid.
One thing is certain: to keep students coming in, colleges will have to try harder. Despite college degree replacing a high-school diploma as a default marker of “sufficient” education, many young people today start to question its value, especially with all the costs involved.
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