The Best Campus Amenities for Recruiting Gen Z Students to Your University
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Written by: Parcel Pending
Gen Z – the younger generation with priorities so significantly different than any other generation that they are changing the college and university landscape. Now is the time to restructure your campus experience and provide the best college amenities to recruit, retain, and engage with this new generation.
Getting to Know Generation Z
Welcome to the age of Gen Z, also known as “Zoomers”, who grew up engaging with social media platforms such as Snapchat, Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. Officially defined as those born between 1995 and 2012, this new, younger generation includes approximately 73.6 million people. Now comprising the majority of today’s prospective students, Gen Z have witnessed a recession, a pandemic, social unrest, and other significant tragedies. As a result, they tend to view the world and college radically differently than other generations.
A Generation of Diversity and Inclusion
Gen Z is the most diverse generation yet; 52% are non-Hispanic white, 14% are black, 6% are Asian and 5% are a different race or two or more races1. This generation demands diversity and inclusion when it comes to race, gender, ethnicity, and sexual identity. They vote with their feet (social marches), their thumbs (taking to social media and other digital mediums), and with their wallets (boycotting brands).
Feelings of Financial Insecurity
According to an eye-opening report from the Chronicle of Higher Education, feelings of financial insecurity overwhelm Gen Z’ers2. One in four students reported feeling “always stressed” about money with concern about how to pay for college adding to their woes.
The implications for universities are clear: demonstrate the positive return on investment from a college degree. Cite specific graduate outcome data so that prospective students have realistic expectations about the typical hiring process for recent graduates and what their career growth trajectory might look like. Be sure to showcase unique degrees and experiences on campus exclusively available to students. And don’t be afraid to embrace new pricing models that include different tuition for hybrid classes. It’s also important to include price transparency letting students see the true price of their education including books, supplies, and housing.
The Pivot in Priorities for Services as Community Amenities
Climbing walls and high-tech fitness centers on campus that worked to recruit Millennial students are a non-starter for Gen Z. Instead, a typical Gen-Z college student is looking for a campus facility with services that meet their different demands. Trends in college student housing have revealed that flexibility and collaboration in common areas are key. Gen Z students are also looking for dorm resident lounges, flexible learning spaces, and even outdoor study spaces that are both safer and more conducive to creating a stronger connection with nature.
A stellar example of this new thinking is highlighted by the North Carolina School of Math. No longer is there an academic lecture space and then a laboratory space. Instead, its Academic Commons is a student village that weaves together study halls, science and digital labs, virtual learning areas, and a makerspace.
And over at Lehigh University, newly finished student housing boasts dorm resident lounges and a coffee bar. Plus, as an added convenience for students, the school recently implemented smart parcel lockers for its college apartments to provide safe and secure deliveries for students. “Creating a safe environment for students – especially in light of COVID-19 – and providing overall exceptional customer service is our priority, and we’re always seeking new innovations to enhance the student experience,” says Mark Ironside, Assistant Vice President of Business Services at Lehigh University of the decision to invest.
Integrating Technology with Academics
At the start of COVID, almost 50% of colleges had no online programs at all3! Today, it’s a vastly different story, with a virtual learning community emerging on almost every college campus.
Gen Z are prospective students that grew up with a smart phone almost surgically attached to their hands; they have never known a world where you can’t simply “Google it!” As a result, Zoomers tend to view technology differently than other generations.
Since they’re constantly in search of innovation, these college students applaud new ways of integrating technology with learning. Southern New Hampshire University, for instance, earns high marks for teaching architecture through the lens of a 3D holographic model. And Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute has created a revolutionary and immersive way to teach Mandarin. Students can learn this Chinese dialect within a virtual computer-generated street scene and by conversing with avatars. As one successful student explains: “I thought it would be cheesy. It’s definitely more engaging because you’re actively involved with what’s going on”4.
Most importantly, Gen Z values practical application of their learning. Given their need for a positive return on investment on their education, they are looking for colleges that arm them with practical skills for life.
Mental Health & Wellness Are a Priority
The unplanned dorm room isolation of university students led to depression and frustration during last year’s pandemic protocols. In fact, 65% of students report having fair or poor mental health5. Offering easy-to-schedule mental health services, private sessions, and responsive staff work well.
Yale University, for instance, has a unique response with its Science of Well-Being free class from Coursera. Here, students learn how to boost their own happiness and build new habits.
Spaces4Learning also recently highlighted efforts by Duke University and the University of Virginia to craft innovative, light-filled spaces that foster wellness6. Both of these universities focus on social, physical, psychological, personal, and environmental wellness. The Wahoos (affectionately known as “the Hoos” by University of Virginia alum) even provide a kitchen for cooking up healthy meals.
Elevate the Student Experience
Tom Ellett holds a rare job in higher education: Chief Experience Officer at Quinnipiac University7. One of his key learnings about college life this past year from students was the frustration in dealing with different offices for administrative issues such paying their bills, receiving financial aid, changing meal plans, and registering for classes. A Rand Corporation study of four community college systems found a 3% average increase in student retention by moving to an integrated model, with better outcomes for adult learners over the age of 25, and students of color8. As of early 2021, these services are under one roof at Quinnipiac.
It’s a new world on college campuses with Generation Z students. Administrators must understand the top priorities of this generation and tweak their campus amenities to serve them. Finding ideas to make college campuses better is crucial now more than ever. Mental wellness, flexible options, exceptional technology, practical education, and better experiences must all come together to entice tomorrow’s college student body.
Higher education institutions are navigating how best to elevate their student experience to attract and retain Gen Z students. To determine how smart lockers can help provide a safe, modern campus experience, contact a Parcel Pending by Quadient representative today.
- Parker, Kim & Igielnik, Ruth. Pew Research Center. On the Cusp of Adulthood and Facing an Uncertain Future: What We Know About Gen Z So Far. (2020, May 14). https://www.pewresearch.org/social-trends/2020/05/14/on-the-cusp-of-adulthood-and-facing-an-uncertain-future-what-we-know-about-gen-z-so-far-2/.
- The Chronicle of Higher Education. (2018). The New Generation of Students [Report]. Retrieved from: http://connect.chronicle.com/rs/931-EKA-218/images/NextGenStudents_ExecutiveSummary_v5%20_2019.pdf
- Fry, Jonathan. Accenture. 7 Ways COVID-19 is Accelerating Trends in Higher Education. (2020, September 30). https://www.accenture.com/us-en/blogs/voices-public-service/7-ways-covid-19-is-accelerating-trends-in-higher-education.
- Marcus, Jon. The New York Times. How Technology is Changing the Future of Higher Education. (2020, February 20). https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/20/education/learning/education-technology.html.
- Ezarik, Melissa. Inside Higher Ed. Students Struggle but Don’t Seek Colleges’ Help. (2021, April 14). https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2021/04/14/students-struggling-not-seeking-campus-mental-health-support.
- Holcumb, R., Shell, S., and Smith, J. Spaces4Learning. Design for Post-Millennials: How Gen Z is Shaping Higher Ed Spaces. (2020, May 25). https://spaces4learning.com/Articles/2020/05/25/Design-for-Gen-Z.aspx?Page=1.
- Busta, Hallie. Higher Ed Dive. Living the student life: A glimpse into the job of a university chief experience officer. (2021, June 25). https://www.highereddive.com/news/living-the-student-life-a-glimpse-into-the-job-of-a-university-chief-exper/602419/.
- Daugherty, Lindsay, et al. Rand Corporation. (2020). Connecting College Students to Alternative Sources of Support [Report]. Retrieved from: https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RR1740-1.html