Founders, Homeland, GenZ – these are just a few of the many names being tossed around for post-millennials. Researchers in many industries are hard at work trying to understand what drives this group, and higher education is no exception. In fact, a major focus of the 2016 Eduventures Summit, held in Boston in late October, was on how to communicate with this upcoming generation of students who are likely to enter higher education institutions in the next few years.
The Millennial generation, born between 1982 and approximately 2004, is starting to age out of the traditional undergraduate college pipeline. Meanwhile, Tammy Erickson and others postulate that the generation born since 1995 is its own unique group. Termed the “Re-Gen” generation by Erickson, these students grew up in the shadow of 9/11 and the Great Recession. They have only known a black President of the United States. They have always seen cell phones not as devices on which to make a call, but as smartphones capable of doing almost anything that tablets or laptops could do.
We are currently seeing both the tail end of the Millennial generation and the beginning of Re-Gen in the entering class at most institutions. Just when you thought your communication plans were perfect, it may be time to rethink if your messages will still resonate with this evolving faction of students. Here are three things to keep in mind about Re-Gen:
- Re-Gen isn’t as concerned with objects and possessions.
Re-Gen is largely not interested in taking on debt – including student loans and home mortgages – after seeing what the Great Recession did to family finances and hearing about the high loan indebtedness of their older siblings. They are willing to save and defer gratification (unlike previous generations, who want everything now!). In addition, objects and possessions don’t necessarily confer status for Re-Gen, so just relying on the reputation of the institution to sell itself is probably not going to work as well for these students and most of their parents.
- Re-Gen wants to know what your school will help them do, not just what they will learn.
Re-Gen students want to – and can – find their own information and don’t want it given to them or forced on them. What many Re-Gen students want from your college is to know what your college will enable them to do – both while they’re in college and after they leave – and not just what (or from whom) they will learn. Many want to know that they will learn how to make and create things, as many plan to be entrepreneurs.
- Re-Gen students’ parents need to know how your college will meet their child's needs.
The parents of Re-Gen students are sometimes late Baby Boomers, who are comfortable with competition (in part, because there were so many members of this generation) and who want to hear that their child “won” admission to a prestigious institution. But GenX-ers, who comprise the largest portion of current college student parents, want to know that your college will offer alternatives and flexibility, enabling students to have lots of choices and personalized experiences. According to Eduventures Analyst Kim Reid, GenX parents need to know specifically how your college will serve and meet their child’s needs. General platitudes about “a great campus environment” will not convince these parents that your college is the right one for their child.
It took colleges and universities awhile to catch on to the messaging and the campus programs and activities that would appeal to the Millennial generation and, almost as importantly, to their parents. Now it’s time to rethink what we ‘know’ about students planning to enroll in college immediately after high school graduation to begin to retool messaging, assess the academic and campus programs to make available and how they should be offered, and be aware of what this new generation expects and needs from their postsecondary education.
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