Meet Gen Z—and Their Expectations

What’s in a name? A lot—especially if it’s the name of the generation you were born into. Back in 2012, USA Today hosted a contest to name the generation that followed the Millennials. Suggestions in the running: Generation Wii, iGeneration, Gen Tech, Digital Natives, Net Gen, Multi Gen. Ultimately labelled Generation Z, all of those earlier-mentioned names could also have fit. Because Gen-Z grew up in an age of unrivalled technological advances; a world of gamification, instant gratification, and financial insecurity. Swiping on phones and tablets since they were in diapers, Gen-Z knows how to find what they want online—and they’re knocking at higher ed’s door. Is your office ready?

Meet Gen-Z: 74-Million Strong

Born after 1997 (though some articles put that date up to 2003), there are more than 74 million members, meaning Gen-Z represents almost 25% of the U.S. population. Born into a world scarred by 9/11 and the Great Recession, it’s a generation that’s never had the luxury of a threat-free perspective, so they’ve been forced to view life through a more guarded lens. Savvy and pragmatic, they know when they’re being sold to because they’re constantly bombarded with advertising, social media influencers, and more. The pluralist moniker also fits, as this is expected to be the first “majority-nonwhite generation,” and the most ethnically diverse generation yet.  

Technology and Sharing

This is a generation all about technology, and using tech is second nature to them. They’re early adopters, with an enormous tech consumption rate, looking for instant gratification: think Hulu, Netflix, Lyft, Amazon. Hyper-connected, Gen-Z consumes data in rapid bite-sized increments, preferring to seek out information online rather than in-person. Forty percent of Gen-Zers listed working WiFi as more important than working bathrooms. Yep. You read that right. #MindBlown.

Considering the first iPhone was released in 2007 when the oldest of Gen-Z was roughly 10, it makes sense that a mobile device / smartphone is the device of choice for 75% of Gen-Z. Other interesting facts from IBM’s “Uniquely Generation Z: What brands should know about today’s youngest consumers” report:  

• 87% have access to high-speed internet at home

• 66% frequently use more than one device at the same time

• 62% won’t use an app or website that’s hard to navigate

• 60% won’t use an app or website that’s slow to load

• 61% feel better sharing personal information with brands that offer secure storage and protection of data

Social Media: Precious Seconds

A quarter of Gen-Z teens are online “all the time.” They spend more than four hours a day online on their mobile devices. They send and receive 67 texts a day – that doesn’t even count social media messaging on Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook and the like.

Gen-Zers are social media multi-taskers, so tell your story quickly. They share different kinds of content to different media channels, showcasing their aspirational selves on Instagram, getting news on Twitter and gleaning info from Facebook. They engage with social media in micro-interactions that may only last a few seconds, so you don’t have much time. Keep in mind, however, they may check their social media accounts as often as 100 times in a day. Today’s individualistic, multicultural, risk-averse Gen-Zers crave transparency, connection, and authenticity. Surveys show they are more influenced by real people than celebrities, meaning user-generated content is often a great way to gain their trust and respect.

Is Your FinAid Office Ready For Gen-Z?

Generation Z is moving through higher education as we speak. Based on what’s known so far—and always with the understanding that generational research should be used as a starting point for crafting truly personalized outreach strategies—how would you rate your institution’s readiness in terms of helping Gen-Z students navigate the student finance journey?

Some safe assumptions: They aren’t going to stand in line at your FinAid Office to clarify document requests. They won’t wait on hold in a phone queue when they have questions about their award letters. They’ll walk away, hang up; give up.

Engage them across platforms and devices. Studies show that texting is the #1 communication go-to for Gen Zers. In fact, 77% say they want relevant information from college via text. Which is great news considering the following statistics:

  • Text messages have a 99% open rate
  • 95% of texts will be read within 3 min of being sent
  • Average response time for a text is 90 seconds

Automated text alerts are a great way to nudge students along their student finance journey and drive faster verification cycles.

Connecting with Gen-Z: Key to Enrollment Goals

Fifty percent  of financial aid offices believe they have insufficient technology, meaning half of all institutions aren’t meeting student expectations. As enrollment rates decline and the pool of student prospects grows shallower, a robust mobile experience that students really want could be the difference between reaching enrollment goals or falling short.

Innovative Student Financial Services Technology is a valuable tool to keep students and schools on track for success and  unite Gen-Z student expectations with the needs of your FinAid Office staff members. 

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