Generation Z largely grew up in a time of tumultuous cultural, social, and political shifts. Born between 1995 to 2005, these kids never saw a carton of milk with a $2.88 sticker price nor were they sold on the idea of college as an investment that could be paid for with a part-time job. Instead, they watched their parents readjust their entire lives during a recession and their siblings accept massive financial burden to earn the privilege of calling themselves a bachelor’s degree graduate. For this reason, this generation is skeptical. They are skeptical of established institutions that promise success and assure their best interest. Most notably, they are skeptical of higher education.
The University Professional and Continuing Education Association recently released “An Insider’s Guide to Generation Z and Higher Education 2019,” where they reported that 56% of Generation Z’ers consider the cost of college as a huge determining factor when deciding whether they attend full-time or part-time. Another 39% of Generation Z’ers said that the costs of higher education already altered their life plan. Nitrocollege also conducted a survey and found that 65% percent of students are planning to stay in-state to save on the cost of tuition. Generation Z’s response to the cost by college is, by no means, surprising. Of the latest graduating college class, 69% took out loans averaging $29,800. Student loan debt in the United States has surpassed credit card loan debt, the proven vice of Generation X and Baby Boomers. These numbers are more than theoretical for Generation Z’ers; as of 2018, 45% of parents are still paying off their student loans according to “At a Time of Extraordinary College Loan Debt, Gen Z is Looking for New Approaches to Higher Education by Richard Polimeni.” Gen Z has both seen and experienced the effect of burdensome student loans, making them cautious for their future.
Skepticism Leading to More Informed Choices
Despite the relative apprehension towards amassing student loan debt, Gen Z’ers are still planning to attend college. They are simply making safer, more informed choices. According to Polimeni, 74% of students are choosing schools based on cost. Gen Z students are also shifting their focus to more affordable community college options. In fact, 52% of students view community college in the same high regard as a traditional four-year university. Moreover, these students are asking colleges about the return on investment. These questions come in light of current college graduates’ struggle to find a job commensurate with their degree. According to The Harvard Business Review, over 40% of new and recent graduates are underemployed in their first job out of college. Unfortunately, this number often does not improve after their first job either. Two-thirds of those underemployed in their first position are still underemployed five years later. Knowledge of the unforgiving job market marks Gen Z’ers with a fitting sense of entitlement. According to NitroColleges’s article Dr. Tatum Soo Kim, Associate Dean to Student Affairs at Columbia University states, “Generation Z is financially cautious because they care deeply about how their money is spent […] Undeniably, Generation Z will expect value for their investment.”
On top of their penny-saving tendencies, Gen Z’ers are expecting more from their universities and colleges. According to The National Association for College Admissions Counselors’ article, “Instant Generation,” 72% of students say they want a more customized college experience where they have more flexibility in designing their major. 79% of Generation Z’ers want their higher education institutions to provide more experience with meaningful internships. A report by Barnes & Noble College states that one of the most important factors in choosing a college for Gen Z’ers is career preparation. The Chronicle for Higher Education’s executive summary posits that “colleges need to focus on a new group of students, one that’s more practical and more focused on relevant academic programs and support services than on bells and whistles.” Gen Z cares far more about the resources provided for them to succeed as they see college as a means to better career opportunities. Forbes writer Andrew Josuweit explains, “Whereas you and I might have seen college as a gateway to adulthood, Generation Z sees it as a launching pad.”
Despite all of the skepticism towards college, Gen Z’ers are still, overwhelmingly, planning to attend college. Barnes & Noble College reports that 82% of students plan to go to college right after high school and 89% view a college education as valuable. These students are just far more cautious about their choices than previous generations.
Generation Z is a product of their environment. They are making smart choices about their higher education and rightfully expecting colleges to properly and aptly prepare them for the job market. Simply put, Gen Z’ers are looking for a college help place them in a profitable career. After all, the price of milk is now $3.27.