Colleges Welcome 'Generation Z' Students

Aug 23, 2019

As the new school year ramps up, Generation Z students are heading to college for the first time, and most Millennials are done.

Dr. Greg Dewey
Credit WAMC photo by Dave Lucas

Colleges throughout the Capital Region have become hubs of activity as first-year students arrive to begin the new academic year. These frosh are unlike any that have come before. Doctor Greg Dewey is president of Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences.   "We are a student-centered college and we really want to meet the students where they're at and we have to understand the things that chase each generation, how each generation is a little bit different in terms of, you know, their basic social climate that they come form, the events that shape their generation, especially the use of technology."

Gen Z, at 72.8 million strong, is defined as the generation reaching adulthood in the second decade of the 21st century, the first generation familiar with the Internet from infancy, which makes them different from Millennials.

David Stillman, an internationally acclaimed speaker on Generation Z, says that by 2020, the group will account for 40 percent of US consumers.   "I've been studying the generations for 22 years, it's kind of been an interesting career, studied traditionalists, Boomers, X-ers, Millennials and Gen Z and what's interesting right now is that I'm seeing a bit of history repeat itself. You know when the Baby Bboom generation was around, 80 million, they pretty much garnered the limelight, wherever they were, that when my generation, Gen X showed up, the assumption was, 'Oh, they'll behave and act just like us,' so they tried to treat Gen X like the Boomers from a feedback system at work to a recruitment approach to a marketing technique, and it backfired. Huge mistake. People did learn from that and that's why everyone was so ready and I think for the Millennial generation and why there's been so much chatter for the Millennials, people realize the benefit of looking at generation's differences. So what's interesting, so much chatter on a daily basis about Millennials that no one realized that Gen Z is already 25 years old."

As colleges welcome Gen Z-ers, Stillman says in general the group wants to avoid debt and is definitively career focused. And they possess a unique advantage:   "They're digital native. They've just never known a world where phones aren't smart, things that the rest of us sort of are, I would say, learning to accept still, they expect with an e, they actually expect it. Anything from how I register for a class, to how you recruit me, how you respond to me, so my educational experience, it's assumed technology will be a part of that."

"Well first of all, the telephone is a rare form of communication. Email is becoming a rare form of communication. And when you tweet things, that's almost like a different language." ~ Dr. Greg Dewey, president, Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences

Dewey says he and the staff at ACPHS recognize and respect Gen Z's fascination with communication.   "Well first of all, the telephone is a rare form of communication. Email is becoming a rare form of communication. And when you tweet things, that's almost like a different language. I'm trying to learn some of the nuances of things. Email and tweeting can be very harsh forms of communication because they're not subject to nuance.  When you're talking to a person you see their expressions, you see when they intend to be funny or not, and when you do that with email or tweeting, you don't have that kind of context. And so I'm very mindful now of what I do electronically. In terms of Gen Z, I think this is kinda the tip of the iceberg, because this is the first group coming through. We did bring this expert on campus to talk to us about that, we want to learn more."

That expert was Stillman, who workshopped faculty in a panel discussion on what the implications are for instructors and how Gen Z is expected to rewrite the rules of the workplace and transform the future of business.   "Optimism has made way for a lot of what I'll call realism, where this generation I think is gonna do great because they've been in survival mode from day one. Their key influences, one of them, was the recession. They saw their parents’ net worth stripped, Gen X-ers net worth during the recession fell by 45 percent. That's my generation. So they watched this happen to their parents. They've been through a recession, now they're seeing an economic high, they'll probably see another dip by the time they finish their first job. So this generation, I'd say they're just very equipped with survival skills because they're very realistic, and I'm very hopeful about this generation."

  • BONUS AUDIO: Stillman expands his thoughts on Gen Z's future.