The Pulse of Higher Ed

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

Rethinking “Generation Z is Not My Target Market”

While recently visiting an on-campus continuing education unit, I was told by a program director, “Generation Z is not my target market.”  To me, that is dangerous thinking for a professional, continuing and online education (PCO) unit.

Generation Z, those under the age of 23, have only graduated their first major cohort of college students. The iGeneration (iGen), a segment of Generation Z aged 14 to 22 and predominantly of high school or college age, is 42 million strong in the United States. Colleges and universities and their PCO units, can view this cohort opportunistically or as a potential threat, but they should not be ignored. While wielding very little power today, they will gain confidence and influence as more of their Millennial mentors become managers, directors, politicians, policy makers, and C-level leaders. If managed properly, iGen can be an opportunistic source of enrollments and advocates for PCO units. If not, then iGen, with the assistance of young Millennials, may inflict pain upon your units.

iGeneration has distinct brand loyalty differences from generations before them. Their dependence on technology is more extreme from other generations. They are the most informed generation the world has ever seen. As a result, they are more confident (but less outspoken), networked with large numbers of followers and friends, more open-minded, less tolerant of poorly designed products or processes, and modular learners. Depending on the institution, higher education institutions are often steeped in tradition; bound to the four-year 120-credit degree, have legacy systems designed around learners who graduated a decade or two ago, and all at a premium price.  When you look at the preferences of iGen and the historical nature of higher education, they both be headed for a collision course in the near future.

Whether or not iGen is your target market currently, an iGen’er who slips into your legacy webpage or telephone-centered 9-to-5 enrollment process (on or off hours), has the potential to tell his or her 500+ Snapchat friends, Twitter followers or Instagram community about their experience. Looking forward, in the long-term, they eventually will be your target demographic and you must begin the planning process to accomodate them; in the short-term, you can view them as the change agents, product or program testers, and process breakers and makers that will help you and your institution prepare for the future.  There are about 8 million iGen’ers who bypassed college and another 1.5 to 2 million who will soon graduate.  Another 14 to 15 million are still in college and some will graduate over the next few years, others will not.

In just three years, the first iGen’er will be 25 years old.  The future is closer than you think. Make sure you’re prepared for it. 

Learn more by reading my comprehensive study of iGen – download my report “An Insider’s Guide to Generation Z and Higher Education”.

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