Benchmark This!

Latest Trends Impacting Marketing and Higher Education
from Director of UPCEA's Center for Research and Strategy, Jim Fong

The New Adult Learner: Lessons Learned from Reality Television

When reality television exploded into our culture two decades ago, I will admit that I was hooked on Survivor. I enjoyed the principles of competition, teamwork, manipulation and human behavior as they apply in life and in the workplace. It was also about intergenerational and diverse communication in a semi-survival situation (although we know that it was very voluntary and not truly life-threatening). I am NOT a fan of The Bachelor or The Bachelorette, although my Generation Z daughter loves the show, as do tens of millions worldwide. However, there are lessons to be learned from this genre of reality television…it’s the relationship style of Generation Z (those about 18 to 24 years of age) and young Millennials (those about 25 to 35 years of age).

Let’s say that your online institution is a candidate on The Bachelor or The Bachelorette. Your goal is to stay in the running for as long as possible, with the hope of being chosen as his or her lifetime partner. Who’s this bachelor/bachelorette? He or she is a Gen Zer shopping online for their best-fit college. It could be a date (or one-time educational purchase) or it could be the beginning of a lifelong relationship.

"Gen Zers’ approach to choosing a college is much like the popular reality TV shows, The Bachelor and The Bachelorette: they date many candidates at the same time and start eliminating them, one by one if they’re not a good fit."

 

Your institution is just one of 10 other candidates vying for the bachelor’s/bachelorette’s attention. All of the candidates are impressive: some with great faculty, some with great technology, and some with a great brand name. Each contestant (or online institution) thinks very highly of themselves and tries to stand out from the crowd without turning off the bachelor or bachelorette. You know you want to appear normal, not crazy or clingy. But when do you decide to start standing out? The competition dwindles as one after another gets eliminated. You hope this means that you’ll be the future winner who gets to be the lifetime educational partner.

Gen Zers’ approach to choosing a college is much like the popular reality TV shows, The Bachelor and The Bachelorette: they date many candidates at the same time and start eliminating them, one by one if they’re not a good fit. They eliminate the crazy, the boring and the incompatibles.  This requires an exchange of information. 

UPCEA did a groundbreaking study of how 100 professional, continuing, and online education (PCO) units interface with the public, particularly with Gen Z. We primarily reviewed the “Request for Information” form, usually from institutional PCO websites. We also reviewed the exchange and the communication the institution returned to us. We looked at attributes that would impact Gen Zers and young Millennials and found that 18 institutions excelled in their interface and exchange, while 30 failed. Interpreting this into The Bachelor or Bachelorette scenario, roughly three contestants would be deemed creepy or crazy immediately, and two contestants would get their immediate attention. Are you creeping out the new adult learner or are your processes designed for the final rose ceremony? 

Read the fully study here. 

Jim Fong, UPCEA

Lead consultant Jim Fong, the founding director of UPCEA’s Center for Research and Strategy, has extensive background in marketing at Penn State, as well as experience in private industry. Jim brings a rich understanding of the dynamics driving today’s higher education leaders, providing research-driven strategy and positioning. Jim often presents at UPCEA’s regional and national conferences, sharing vital information with attendees.

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The New Adult Learner: Lessons Learned from Reality Television

When reality television exploded into our culture two decades ago, I will admit that I was hooked on Survivor. I enjoyed the principles of competition, teamwork, manipulation and human behavior as they apply in life and in the workplace. It was also about intergenerational and diverse communication in a semi-survival situation (although we know that…

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