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Career-Minded, Pragmatic Gen Zs Heading to College

Generation Z — people who started college in 2013 — aren't like Millennials. While the latter are "generally optimistic," like to share their thinking and their experiences and are more likely to buy into the idea of the American Dream, Gen Z is more realistic about its future prospects, prefers to follow versus lead and considers parents "important" role models. Some of that difference is a result of one generation growing up during a healthy budget surplus while the other came of age during the Great Recession. And, of course, Gen Z has never known a time before the Internet and smart devices.

A new book examines Gen Z, also known as the Net Generation and iGeneration, whose members were born between the years 1995 and 2010.

Generation Z Goes to College is the result of a vast array of survey and synthesis work. Authors Corey Seemiller and Meghan Grace questioned more than 1,100 college students in 15 institutions across the country to develop a definition of Gen Z's characteristics, skills and concerns. They also compiled data from 300 other sources, including Northeastern University's Innovation Imperative series, the Higher Education Research Institute's Cooperative Institutional Research Program, the Pew Charitable Trusts and the U.S. Census Bureau.

The authors reported that the members of Gen Z currently make up about a third of the U.S. population and have really just begun heading to college in large numbers. Among their findings about this segment:

  • They're "career-minded," having witnessed the pain of seeing the adults around them lose jobs and homes.
  • At the same time, they're tuned into the difficulties of their own families and friends as well as communities around the world. They want to engage in activities that will have an impact on "systematic and structural problems."
  • They describe themselves as "influential, thoughtful, loyal, compassionate, open-minded and responsible." They've absorbed the idea that they must be entrepreneurial to succeed and are comfortable with that notion.
  • They're motivated by a desire to help and please others, and they want to advocate and work on behalf of something they believe in.
  • Their greatest concerns are education, employment and racial equality, more so than other issues, such as immigration, climate change and the legalization of marijuana, which they believe are already getting the attention needed.
  • They consider the country's political system dysfunctional and therefore have little interest in pursuing public office or engaging in political participation;

"Millennials were raised during a budget surplus and tend to be optimistic and hopeful; Generation Z is a lot more pragmatic and down to earth," Seemiller said in a prepared statement. "Generation Z is a little more cautious when thinking about how everything is going to be great because they have been grounded in a sense of reality by their parents, who are by and large Generation Xers who have been deemed cynical rebels in some ways."

The goal of the book was to help institutions specifically address the unique needs of this generation. Among their recommendations, the authors have suggested that schools draw a tighter connection between learning outcomes and workforce needs; flip their classrooms "for more practical and applied learning"; expand the use of experiential learning; and do more to support the creation of new student inventions and businesses.

Seemiller is a faculty member in the department of Leadership Studies in Education and Organizations at Wright State University. Meghan Grace is the new member orientation director for Sigma Phi Epsilon, one of the largest fraternities in the country.


About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

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