Winning the heart of today’s student means showing you care about the two things: money and career.
In multiple surveys, Generation Z kids have shown they are far more practical than their elders, millennials — and for good reason. The oldest among them, those born around 1995, started planning for college at the same time the Great Recession of 2007-2010 hit. Many were among the 73% of the population directly affected. They saw family members — or members of friends’ families — lose jobs as the national unemployment rate rose from 5% to 10%. Some experienced a sudden and traumatic drop in standard of living.
Messages of financial stress and duress have flooded our culture for much of their conscious lives. Colleges must prepare to align with their priorities.
Gen Z students are also not the only ones looking for a strong return on investment.
“Nontraditional” students comprise nearly half the campus population these days, rendering the term almost moot. About 38% of undergraduates are 25 or over, and 58% of all students are working while taking classes, according to the Lumina Foundation. Another 26% are raising children of their own. If asked, these so-called “non-traditional” students will tell you their hopes for a better career are the No. 1 reason for investing hard earned money, time and energy in school.
The wish for greater social mobility isn’t abstract for either Gen Z or “nontraditional” students. Keeping these students on track for graduation means ensuring they feel as though the school cares about their financial future.
Among all college freshmen, 47% are financially independent (Mom and Dad aren’t helping with school) and a whopping 42% live near or below poverty.
Money is a constant concern.
Seven ways schools should speak to students’ bottom-line needs
- Highlight career-focused books and merchandise in college stores. This could include anything from putting the latest career advice books on prominent display to selling interview clothes.
- Find creative ways for students to connect with alumni professionals. College retailers, for instance, could consider inviting successful alums to networking events on site.
- Help students understand textbook options. Some don’t know how to navigate the complex world of new, used, digital and rental books. Offer services aimed at making options clear to them so they can cut expenses without forgoing required books.
- Include “competency-based” classes in your online catalog. These classes allow students to take tests demonstrating competencies acquired on the job and thus move faster through courses needed for certifications or degrees.
- Publicize the latest online career resources like WayUp, a job site geared specifically to college students and recent graduates, which just raised $18.5 million from investors.
- Increase offerings in professional and vocational majors even at liberal arts schools. Don’t force students to choose between a liberal arts education and practical vocational. Offer both.
- Consider offering non-degree training programs. Some community colleges have begun providing short sixteen-week courses in trades that help students shift careers without investing in a two or four-year degree.