WASHINGTON, D.C. — If you’ve noticed a shift in your traditional-aged students’ behaviors and expectations in the last couple of years, that’s because you’re seeing Generation Z arrive on campus. The first students from this generation started as freshmen in 2013, said Corey Seemiller, assistant professor of leadership studies at Wright State University; and Meghan Grace, new member orientation director for Sigma Phi Epsilon. Seemiller and Grace, the authors of Generation Z Goes to College, spoke at the Association of American Colleges and Universities annual meeting.

Generation Z’s members were born between 1995 and 2010, they said. But generations don’t abruptly start and end, Seemiller said. The dates for when they start and end are fairly arbitrary, so there’s plenty of crossover in traits between students who started college in 2012 and those who started in 2013.

Earlier generations spanned more years than the more recent ones including Generation Z. That’s because technology is changing the context of people’s lives, they said.
Seemiller and Grace brought together data from nearly 300 sources to develop a portrait of Generation Z. Key studies they used were:
  • Generation Z Goes to College study, 2014. Collected data from more than 1,200 first-year students born 1995 or later at 15 public, private, four-year and two-year institutions.
  • Innovations Imperative: Northeastern study, 2014. Studied 1,000+ 16 to 19 year olds.
  • CIRP Freshman Survey, 2014. Collected data on 150,000 first-year Gen Z students.
  • Market Research.
  • Youth research.
Members of Gen Z are “far more complex and dimensional than people give credit for,” Seemiller said. “They’re not just texting.”
In researching the context these new students on campus operate in and their beliefs, Seemiller and Grace identified the following characteristics:
  • Information. These students expect any information they need to be at their fingertips. They don’t have to hope the journal is on the shelf. And if it’s online, they think it must be true.
  • Connection. GenZers are constantly connected. They suffer from FOMO — “fear of missing out.”
  • Creative entrepreneurship. Gen Z students believe that sharing can be revenue generating. They see selling as not just for businesses and want to be their own bosses. They observe examples like Uber, the world’s largest taxi company that owns no vehicles; and Airbnb, the world’s largest accommodations provider that owns no real estate.
  • Disasters and tragedies. The world is a scary place where danger lurks around every corner. With cyberbullying, you can’t even hide behind your own doors.
  • Leadership. Students see more women and people of color in leadership roles, but they know those are still the minority. They believe in reaching for their dreams but being realistic.
  • Social justice. The social movements on equity and equality matter to Gen Z students.
  • Finances. Budget cuts are a reality for these students. Knowing that getting a good job might not be easy, they are financially conservative.
Other findings include:
  • Personal Characteristics. GenZers perceive a big gap between their own characteristics and those of their peers. “They think pretty highly of themselves but not as much of their peers,” Grace said. For example, 85 percent of them said they are loyal, but they perceived only 10 percent of their peers as loyal. About 80 percent said they were thoughtful, but they said only about 15 percent of their peers were thoughtful.
  • Motivation. GenZers are strongly motivated by relationships: 75 percent don’t want to let others down, and 75 percent want to make a difference for someone. They are also motivated by passion, with 75 percent saying they would advocate for something they believe in. And they are motivated by rewards: 74 percent are motivated by an opportunity for advancement, and 74 percent are motivated by the possibility of receiving credit. But they are not motivated by validation from others or by money.
  • Religion. GenZers participation in religion is up compared with previous generations. When asked about spirituality, 47 percent said they were religious, and an additional 31 percent said they were spiritual but not religious. Church attendance is also up during young adulthood, with 41 percent saying they attend weekly religious services, compared with 18 percent of Millenials at the same ages, 21 percent of Generation X, and 26 percent of Baby Boomers.
  • Political leaning. GenZers tend to be socially liberal but moderate or conservative financially.
  • Attitude about the future. Most Gen Zers — 60 percent — are optimistic about their futures. That’s a decline from Millennials, among whom 89 percent were optimistic about their future.
  • Technology. GenZers spend almost every waking moment on technology and prefer multitasking across up to five screens. But their favorite form of communication is in person. They prefer texting over email and phone.
  • Role Models. GenZer’s top role models are their parents. Among those surveyed, 69 percent named their parents as role models, compared with 54 percent for Millennials and 29 percent for GenX. College officials are used to helicopter parents, Seemiller said. But now the parents are co-pilots. That will impact how campuses conduct parent and family programs, she said. Parents need to be not just appeased but included.
Prepare for Gen Z learning preferences

GenZ students prefer certain types of learning, Grace said. They like:
  • Learning that is practical.
  • Facilitated learning.
  • Independent work.
  • Solo work that leads to group work.
  • Setting their own pace.
  • Self-reflection.
They do not prefer:
  • An information dump.
  • Group work only.
  • Creative or imaginative processes. Their K-12 schools had declining arts and music programs, Grace said. The students entering college are very solutions oriented. For example, they want to address homelessness down the street.
They like their learning environments to be social. They want to be around others but not work with them. The environment should promote hands-on learning. GenZers don’t like being lectured to three times a week when they can probably find the information online, Grace said. Instead, they like to work at their own pace and use class time to connect with peers and their professor.

The physical space for studying should be quiet and clean, and the people in it should be passionate about the same things they are, Grace said.
Higher education cost tops Gen Z concerns
When asked about their major concerns, GenZers top issues, in order, were:

1. The cost of college. Students expressed fear that they will be buried under a lifetime of debt for their educations. Their jobs will never pay enough to cover the debt, and they will not be able to afford to buy a home because of the student debt.
2. Employment. These students were under no illusion they will get a job or keep it. They want to feel passionate about and connected to the work they are doing and wanted to feel that their work is changing the world.
3. Racism. GenZers said that equality is the right thing to do and that racism is terrible. They also wondered why it’s still an issue. “This stuff should have been over with 70 years ago,” one commented.
4. Financial security. Many GenZers have a “save now, buy later” mentality. “You never know what the future holds, so you’d better have money in the bank,” they said.
5. Limitations on personal freedom. GenZers don’t want the government involved in their lives, whether the issue is gun ownership, abortion or euthanasia. But they do want the government to spend money on education.

Consider the context of Generation Z

What does the world look like to members of Generation Z? Corey Seemiller, assistant professor of leadership studies at Wright State University; and Meghan Grace, new member orientation director for Sigma Phi Epsilon, said to consider the following:
  • Eminem and LL Cool J could show up at parents’weekend.
  • Kevin Bacon has always maintained six degrees of separation in the cinematic world.
  • Their parents’ car CD player is soooo ancient and embarrassing.
  • They have probably never used Netscape as their web browser.
  • “Press pound” on the phone is now translated as “hit hashtag.”
  • With GPS, they have never needed directions to get someplace — just an address.
  • They have never served in the military under Don’t ask, Don’t Tell.
  • Two presidents have primarily defined their timelines.
  • For the oldest, 9/11 happened during their initial weeks of kindergarten.
Compare Millennials, GenZ

Generation Z is replacing the Millennial Generation among traditional-aged students. According to Corey Seemiller and Meghan
Grace, the authors of Generation Z Goes to College, the two generations compare as follows:


To learn more about Generation Z Goes to College, visit http://www.wiley.com/WileyCDA/WileyTitle/productCd-1119143454,miniSiteCd-JBHIGHERED,navId-812120.html and http://genzgoestocollege.com.