The Pulse of Higher Ed

Perspectives on Online and Professional Education
from UPCEA’s Research and Consulting Experts

Generation Z, A New Cohort of Adult Learners

Over the past two decades, professional, continuing, and online (PCO) education units of colleges and universities have reaped the rewards of Boomers returning to complete their bachelor’s degrees. As Boomers gave way to Generation X and Millennials, PCO units developed professional master’s degrees to further feed these groups. Now, higher education will soon graduate their first Generation Z’ers. Compared to generations past, Z will have a higher percentage of college educated professionals and be the first generational cohort that was raised in a mobile and wired society.

In addition to the challenges of marketing to Z, units must look to redesigning continuing education to meet this generation’s unique needs. No generation has experienced what they have in terms of the use mobile phones, the Internet, video-on-demand and social media, among other technologies. Thankfully, this generation believes in just-in-time learning and are quite skilled at finding information. Higher education will ultimately have to change its product line and marketing approaches to carefully reach this powerful generation.

Even within Generation Z, there are segments which may influence higher education. There are gender and education differences in the use of social media, ride sharing and entertainment.

Did you know that …

  • There are clear segments that prefer certificates and other credentials based on various demographics, as well as education earned. There are many Gen Z’ers who have a college degree and Millennials in college that believe there is value in earning certificates in the future. In fact, roughly one-fourth strongly value certificates while more than 40% of those with a degree somewhat value certificates.
  • There are generational and gender differences among Gen Z’ers and Millennials regarding specific social media usage. For example, 95% of Generation Z females surveyed have SnapChat compared to 72% of male Gen Z’ers. However, Gen Z females use it 10 times per day compared to less than 6 times for males.
  • Gen Z’ers and Millennials, while heavily dependent on social media, do see email as an official and preferred way to communicate with a college or university. However, the challenge in upstream marketing is often fragmentation of media. UPCEA/Blackboard showed that the generations expect or value multiple types of contact from a higher education institution, including email, a telephone call or through social media. Many would use passive approaches in their selection of an institution (browsing an institution’s webpage, searching online for ratings, talk to family) before even engaging the college or university.

Are institutions of higher education truly prepared for this mysterious generation? Do PCO units have programs, marketing, and delivery in alignment with Z? Are CRM systems in place to manage the digital preferences of Z? Join me as we continue to discuss these questions.

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