Generation Z – the students and prospective students of today – are different from the students that went before them. They are educated, industrious, collaborative and eager to build a better planet. They’re more socially-minded than their parents, more community-minded and more likely to volunteer.
If these prospective students have bigger social consciences than the generations before them, it’s for a reason. Ongoing economic and environmental instability has shaped them.
More than 40 percent of 18 to 25-year-olds cite global warming as the biggest risk facing the world and they want to do something about it – an estimated six million young people participated in the 2019 school strike for climate change.
It’s too early yet to say what impact coronavirus will have on them, and many might now list that above global warming in terms of world risks. They’re the first generation of young people to experience a truly global pandemic since the flu pandemic a hundred years ago. And for this socially conscious group, it’s not just the personal impact they’re likely to be worried about.
Perhaps not surprisingly, experts warn of a mental health crisis among young people, with suicide the second leading cause of death among 10 to 24-year-olds. Anxiety and depression have sadly become commonplace, but with them, a growing recognition of the problem. This is a generation less afraid of admitting they have a problem.
Although they arguably fuel mental health problems, the internet, social media and mobile technology have always existed for these young adults. These are the digital natives and technology has moulded their expectations and view of the world. Brought up in an age where technology has reshaped the way organisations interact with their stakeholders and user-centricity has become ubiquitous, these young people expect slick, digital services that are shaped around them.
They’re also more prudent than generations before them. When it comes to the biggest purchase most of them will ever make other than buying a house, they want the very best return on their investment.
This generation of sophisticated consumers is interested in more than just the degree they end up with. They are concerned about their career prospects and they want a university that gives them the best chances. But they want more than that too – they are looking for an all-round experience.
To survive in this challenging market, universities need to meet the high expectations that prospective students have of them. That means a focus that goes way beyond the academic – though that’s essential too. Institutions must have a comprehensive, holistic offering that promises the very best education alongside a lifestyle, prospects and support – all delivered by a responsible business.
It’s worth noting that not all students fall into the same demographic. Around a quarter of undergraduate applications come from mature students – those who are over 21 when they start their course. More than half of those are under 25 and just ten percent will be more than 40 years old.
High fees are thought to be part of the reason for the drop in the number of mature students, and funding changes also mean there are now far fewer part-time students.
What is clear, though, is that for older or part-time students, embarking on higher education is just as much of an investment and for many, an even bigger financial challenge. Most will already have entered the world of work and many will continue working around their studies. It adds up to the same high expectations and demand for a return on their investment as school leavers.