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Most anyone would agree that Generation Z is a revolutionary generation. From their approach to the world to their interaction with it, Gen Z is a breed all its own. Born between 1996-2012, this subsect of the population craves authenticity and forging their own path. As Deloitte’s Welcome to Gen Z’s research report states, “Gen Z refuses to fit into neat little boxes.” They want their life their way and plan to make current structure work for them not the other way around. Their highly individualistic way of thinking also affects their approach to education.

Inside Higher Education recently posted a report that found that Gen Zers are more far more open to nontraditional paths to the job that will pay the bills. The article states, “More than half of the respondents said they are open to pursuing something other than a four-year degree, and 70 percent want to follow their own educational path. Less than one-quarter said a four-year college is the only path to a decent job.” Gen Z does not believe they have to follow the tried and true method of due process. They have watched their millennial brothers and sisters undergo the stresses of finding a job and paying off burdensome loans after earning a degree; they understand the struggle deeply and are doing everything they can to avoid this undue stress. Thus, they are looking for opportunities with similar outcomes sans the risk.

As such, many Gen Zers are shifting their attention to other places for education outcomes such as trade schools, many of which offer a substantial salary for fewer years of studying. According to the Inside Higher Education article, 74% of Gen Zers surveyed believe that trade skills “make sense.” More than half agree it is a good place to find a job. 

The Harvard Business Review expects shortcuts to successful careers to supplant more traditional, four-year degrees. With the alternative ways to break into an industry, a pandemic that threatens the traditional college experience, and possible economic turmoil, we may see a structural change in higher education as a whole. In fact, one survey found that 60% of Gen Z are open to starting a job without a college degree, meaning they do not necessarily view college as a means to end anymore. Instead, these students are eager to begin working, especially as they watch global events unfold and deconstruct the notion of normal, expected.  

 “Gen Z wants to get its foot on the first rung of a career ladder — a good first job quickly, and without incurring any debt — before deciding what secondary or tertiary postsecondary education pathways to follow in order to bolster cognitive skills, become managers, move on, and move up.”  As a result, shortcut other pathways such as bootcamps, last-mile training, and apprenticeships have become increasingly attractive. In fact, just last year, the bootcamp market size grew 4.4% with over 33,959 graduates.

 In a similar vein, the Harvard Business Review expects apprenticeships to emerge as “scalable” and “viable” for students. According to the United States Government Apprenticeship website, an apprenticeship “is an industry-driven, high-quality career pathway where employers can develop and prepare their future workforce, and individuals can obtain paid work experience, classroom instruction, and a portable, nationally-recognized credential.” The website reports that students who finish an apprenticeship make an average of $70,000 a year, an attractive number for those just finishing high school. 

This doesn’t necessarily suggest that all students will forgo college, however. Forbes’ article “5 Reasons Generation Z Will Be ‘Generation Smart’ About College” states that 89% of Gen Zers saw college as valuable. It is likely that many students will still attend college in the fall, however their expectations for college are vastly different than generations past. They want more personalized and hands-on experiences to help them have a leg up when applying for jobs. 

All of these pathways provide new, shorter, and cheaper ways to get Gen Z’s foot in the door. 

With so many options on the table and many businesses forgoing the bachelor’s degree requirement, Generation Z will likely pioneer a new wave of alternative pathways. This generation continues to find ways to subvert traditional structures and mold them to fit their own needs. 

The options for Generation Z are limitless. They may choose to continue on a traditional path for success and attend a four-year university. Others may choose to jump straight into their career by choosing a less expensive career training route. As we have discussed many times, there isn’t one path to success. What a perfect ideal for the generation with countless options. 

Will Gen Z Bypass College?

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