Navigating Generational Shifts: Understanding Today’s Student Demographics, Preferences and Expectations

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As society evolves, our fascination with generational differences never seems to cease. Driven by the worldly events of the time, each generation embodies a generalized collection of cultural differences which tells us a fair amount about their beliefs, influencers, and preferences. While our fascination is oftentimes tied to pop-culture details such as fashion, music, and food trends, generational differences have a big impact on a global and economic scale. Higher education is no exception.

In early 2017, UPCEA and Blackboard began collaboration on research aimed at showcasing the education experience across multiple generations. Our hypothesis was that different generations likely have different expectations for their education experience. We were interested in just how different those expectations were, particularly for the generations furthest apart in age. Realizing that the largest majority of students today are adult, “non-traditional” learners, we set out to learn how each of the generations who make up the “new adult learner” category view their educational journey.

Ultimately, these expectations should inform our strategic approach to enrollment growth and student success. The primary objective of this research is to better understand the needs and preferences of the
new adult learner, asking questions such as:

  • Are we still communicating with the right tools and messages?
  • Have we made the right investments in technology and outreach?
  • Are our systems set up to support these generations?
  • Do we have the best services in place to care for students?
  • Are our processes and approach in need of a full makeover?


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