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President's Desk

A look at Generation Z

Feb 23, 2018

Several weeks ago, I told you about our student demographics at VCSU. In this column, I’d like to introduce you to the emerging generation our current students represent—Generation Z. As these students graduate high school and enter the workforce or start college, they bring new expectations and behavioral characteristics that the rest of us—the Millennials, GenXers, and Boomers—must adjust to and appreciate.

A recent Forbes article, “5 Differences Between Marketing to Millennials vs. GenZ,” identifies Generation Z as those born after 1995, and therefore currently age 22 and younger.

In her recently published book, “iGen,” Carol Twenge discusses differences in trend data that characterize this new generation. She notes sharp drops in trends in 2008–12, when GenZ was entering high school. She analyzes data from 1976–2015 to demonstrate some important changes nationally: in 2015, one in four 12th graders did not yet have a driver’s license, while the average 10th grader had not yet tried alcohol (in 1990, the average 8th grader had already had a first drink). There are similar drops in the number of high school students who date and work for pay.

According to Twenge, they are also more likely to stay home instead of socializing, interacting instead with their online community. Thus they are maturing more slowly, having the key experiences of young adulthood several years later than their Millennial counterparts.

Like their older siblings the Millennials, these young people are digital natives, but Forbes notes that GenZ is more likely to develop community relationships online, interacting with a group of friends they can carry with them wherever they go. This reliance on a private social world can mean GenZ students are less likely to value face-to-face relationships and not understand how to work collaboratively—big challenges that faculty in high school and college must help them overcome, so they can eventually be productive in the workforce.

Forbes offers some startling characteristics: GenZ has an eight-second attention span and a strong filter for advertisements. They use up to five screens, moving from one device to the next as their engagement lags. Their devices of choice are smartphone, tablet, laptop, desktop, and TV. They are more likely to seek assistance with a problem or homework on YouTube, instead of asking a teacher or tutor for support.

These young people are also shaped by events during their lifetime. In “Generation Z Goes to College,” authors Seemiller and Grace identify a few of these key events, including terrorism in our post 9/11 world, school shootings, and devastating hurricanes and other national disasters. From kindergarten on, they have attended a school system overtly concerned with protection and student safety. Adult concerns for their safety have limited their childhood freedom to roam the neighborhood unsupervised. Even the financial world of their youth is precarious, as they lived through the recession of 2007 and saw people lose their homes, their savings, and their livelihoods. It’s no surprise that safety is a defining value for this new generation. They are also growing up during a time of increased hate crimes and bigotry. But according to Forbes, GenZ is open-minded and inclusive (perhaps because the internet places them in contact with a wide variety of people); they believe everyone should get along.

Like the generations before them, GenZ faces challenges shaped by their experiences and environment. It’s up to all of us to understand, appreciate, and support this new generation that will become the professionals, the politicians, and the workforce of our future.