Many experts refer to Generation Z as the “Throwback Generation,” as their focus on hard work, social issues and frugality seem reminiscent of their grandparent’s peers. But it may be more appropriate to consider this tech-savvy generation as entirely unique.
After all, Generation Z already has a reputation for seeking to change the world. Their constant connectivity and social media savvy has made this generation much more aware of what’s going on in the world around them than previous generations. They are passionate about making their world a better place and blazing their own path. As a result, housing officers need to prepare today to meet entirely new expectations.
Here are three ways Generation Z’s social awareness will impact student housing.
THEY EXPECT A HIGH RETURN ON THEIR EDUCATION INVESTMENT
Every generation is shaped by the conversations and events taking place in their formative teenage years. Most significantly, Generation Z grew up in the wake of the Great Recession. Having watched their parents and even older siblings struggle financially, they’ve become fiscally conservative. This generation is setting goals and is studying hard to achieve them. Practical Generation Z knows the value of saving and will make cost-conscious decisions.
But this group of teens has also grown up in a world where they can be entrepreneurs at 12 years old. Generation Z grew up selling products on Etsy and launching ad-supported influencer communities. Take Ryan for example; Forbes reported the 6-year-old YouTube star earned $11 million in 2017 by reviewing toys. Given that a majority of Gen Zers ultimately want to run their own business,5 one might expect these youths to head from high school to workforce. Quite the contrary: Generation Z sees higher education as a launching pad to a high-paying career.
How does this impact student housing? Although they see value in higher education, Generation Z won’t pay excessively for it. They’ve worked hard for their money. They are already saving for retirement in record rates. Now Generation Z expects to see clear value from their purchases, including from student housing.
THEY WANT TO CONNECT TO CREATE CHANGE
At 18, Afghan teen Malala Yousafzai became the youngest person ever to win the Nobel Peace Prize. In 2018, the teens of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., led the March For Our Lives movement and created a national platform for changing conversations around gun safety. Confronting racism and prejudice are leading concerns for Generation Z. Research shows that more than a third of Gen Z has donated time or money to a cause they care about, and a quarter has boycotted an activity or company. Protests are back in style.
This has major implications for student housing, particularly related to contracted services such as dining which can sometimes be seen as an extension of campus housing. Housing officers will be best served by maintaining a focus on customer service and rapid responsiveness.
As this group looks for a way to make a difference, they want to connect with their peers to discuss issues and find solutions. This translates to housing with on-campus residences that offer housing based on shared student interests. Special interest communities might be formed around topics such as making a difference, leadership, or wellness, while living learning communities may be formed around topics of study.
Of course, Generation Z also relies on social media to disseminate ideas. They’re used to finding the answers they need online. After all, these digital natives have never known a time without the Internet, so they expect to be literally plugged in, with strong Wi-Fi connectivity. Dorms and apartments need the bandwidth to handle Sunday night traffic, when everyone is watching Netflix, writing papers and doing research on three different devices. While bandwidth on college campuses tripled from 2012 to 2017, with more than 71 percent of schools offering at least 1 GB, students continue to add to the number of web-enabled smart devices they expect your connection to handle.
THEY SEE ENVIRONMENTAL RESPONSIBILITY AS A GIVEN
Generation Z grew up taking part in conversations around environmentalism, and they see sustainability as a necessity. More universities and colleges are taking steps to establish sustainability initiatives, and this should extend to campus housing. These students want environmentally responsible buildings. For example, if the campus dining hall composts, apartment housing should consider getting creative about providing students an opportunity to compost as well. From green roofs to green design choices like LED lighting, high-efficiency washing machines, and low-flow shower heads and toilets, these choices are truly important to students searching for a place to live.