It’s Gen Z, Not Millennial

marquee-news-genzThis week I hosted a webinar titled It’s Gen Z, Not Millennial: An Overview of the Current College Student for the Texas Association of College and University Student Personnel Administrators. My goal was to enhance others understanding about Generation Z, understand how the characteristics of their generation impacts their engagement within higher education institutions, and explore methods to increase the effectiveness programs and services provided by the university. Below you will find a condensed summary of the presentation, but hopefully it will be useful in navigating how you engage with current college-aged students.

The narrative related to current undergraduate students is influenced by the research and behaviors associated with the generation known as millennials, however, this approach can be flawed because of current college students, ages 17-22, as classified as generation Z. It’s important to note that the purpose is not to demean any generation, but explore existing information about a group that is often overlooked.

Defining Gen Z

  • Born in 1995 or later, 2-20 years old
  • Currently make up 26% of the United States population, by 2020, they will account for 1/3 of U.S. population
  • Short attention spans: 8 seconds
  • Open minded, most racially diverse generation in the U.S., Last generation in the U.S. with a Caucasian majority
  • Use an average of 5 screens, but prefer privacy
  • Physically inactive (1/3 of teens are obese) & have lower life expectancies than their parents
  • Represent 20% of consumers with $44 billion in buying power, yet they prefer saving money & shopping online
  • Entrepreneurial spirit drive their educational pursuits, 13% already own their own business
  • Similar to adult learners – go to college, graduate quickly, land a good job

The World Around Gen Z

  • Access to more information than any other generation at their age
    • Recognize threats online, such as identity theft, cyber-bullying, and phishing
    • Learned to embrace privacy in their use of technology
  • Grew up post-9/11, having witnessed a crumbling economy, widespread public shootings, and ongoing violence and terrorism abroad and in the U.S.
    • Internet and social media offer intimate details of these types of events, instilling fear and worry in many student
    • Typically more risk adverse
  • Believe that that they have the power to change the world
    • Social justice issues, such as the legalization of same-sex marriage, policy debates on immigration, religious freedom, transgender rights, and women’s rights, are prominent in their lifetime

General Characteristics

  • Motivated by making a difference, not public recognition
  • Supportive of inclusive practices
  • Prefer to “do”, rather than “lead” when working in groups
  • Prefer face-to face communication
  • Social-change minded, prefer to address underlying causes of issues
  • Intrapersonal learners who prefer individual work over group work
  • Aware of what is happening in the world when they enter college, are already thinking about their place in it
  • Don’t want you to use technology in ways that are not meaningful or central to their lives
  • Money conscious and frugal
  • Overshadowed by millennials and overlooked due to older generations assuming they fall within the millennial framework
  • Often coached by their parents who provide guidance, but let their students take the lead and find their own way

Ways to Increase the Effectiveness of Your Programming/Initiatives

  • Frequently changed rewards and praise
  • Give them an opportunity to prove themselves
  • Create opportunities for face-to-face communication
  • Highlight accelerated programs, flex programs
  • Make explicit connections to their future and career
  • Maximize their “we”-centered mentality
  • Find ways to connect experiences to a bigger purpose
  • Emphasize gained skills
  • Highlight connections to career paths

To learn more about Gen Z or to receive a copy of the presentation used during the webinar please email:


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