Growing Up Gen Z: New Challenges and Opportunities for Campus Life

By: Pat Connolly
Aug 24, 2016 1:55 PM ET

Growing Up Gen Z: new challenges and opportunities for campus life

This blog originally appeared in

This is the second blog in an ongoing series examining how colleges and universities can understand and address the expectations of Generation Z college students. We’ll explore some of the most significant issues, including academic interests, housing expectations, ideological tendencies, dining preferences, and spending habits. The goal is to provide valuable insights that can help guide campus decision-makers in creating an environment that supports student success, well-being, satisfaction, and achievement.  

Young people’s values are largely shaped by the world in which they grow up. While we are still learning about Gen Z and preparing for them to take college campus’ by storm over the next few years, we do know a lot about the environment they are growing up in; we are living it. Think about the tools that have shaped our work-life over the past few years, those same tools shaped Gen Z’s academic experience. Technology integration made significant inroads in education, allowing for data collection, analysis and customized instruction. Gen Z is accustomed to an environment that is more connected and sophisticated than their Gen Y predecessors. Recruiting and retaining these students on campuses with aging infrastructures, and limited connectivity, will be challenging, if we don’t take the time to truly understand what makes them tick. We must take a proactive approach to offering them an environment and experiences that will ensure their success on campus. 

Values for a New Generation

After witnessing the uncertainty of the modern world, Generation Z is less likely to take success and security for granted. They are future-focused realists who want to work hard and who seek opportunity where they can.

Like Millennials, they are a diverse group, exhibiting a wide range of values and interests.

However, some commonalities among members of Gen Z have emerged. Gen Z tends to be:

  • Entrepreneurial
  • Well-informed
  • Technologically advanced
  • Collaborative
  • Self-learners
  • Cautious about safeguarding privacy and information
  • Culturally intelligent
  • Independent
  • Socially aware and sensitive
  • Seekers of education and knowledge

They also maintain a positive outlook, despite the difficulties presented by the world around them. In one survey, 90% of students reported feeling optimistic about the future. Perhaps part of that optimism springs from this generation’s belief in their ability to affect positive change. Generation Z cares about social issues and wants to work to improve the world; 26% of Generation Z students actively volunteer.

Aligning Campus Life to Generation Z’s Values

Generation Z’s interest in learning can be seen in the emphasis this generation places on higher education. Despite its ever-increasing costs, college is still seen as valuable among Generation Z, with 89% saying that higher education is valuable.  In exchange for the high costs, however, they expect an excellent quality of life and a high standard of student living during their college years. Colleges and universities need to find ways to create comfortable environments that promote a sense of well-being and encourage student performance. Their student experience requires a supportive environment that meets their own expectations, before they even arrive on campus, throughout their journey through campus life, and beyond, enabling them to find their way in the world on their own.

It is an exciting and prolific time to be on campus, as Millennials start to leave their legacy and we usher in Generation Z. As I observe this change on campuses of all types and sizes around the world, there is one thing I know for certain. These students are smart, savvy and unimpressed by window-dressing conveniences. We must deliver experience, environment and engagement to ensure the next generation of students thrives and rises to their fullest potential.

Patrick Connolly is Chief Executive Officer of Global Schools & Universities for Sodexo. He also serves as Regional Head for Universities in North America. Sodexo is the 18th largest employer in the world and the leader in delivering integrated facilities management, foodservice operations and recognition programs in 80 countries. Sodexo’s 420,000 employees provide more than 100 unique services that improve performance for client partners and improve Quality of Life for 75 million consumers every day.