In July 2021, The Chronicle of Higher Education released a report, The Future of Gen Z. I recently looked back at this report and thought about where we, as an industry, are two and a half years after this report was published. While it can sometimes feel as though data from two years ago must be outdated, the reality is that the biggest concerns for Gen Z students entering higher education post-Covid are still prominent for students entering colleges and universities in 2023.
As we tackle the college completion crisis, we not only need to be familiar with the barriers to student persistence but also prepared to implement the technological solutions Gen Z expects for success on campus. These students are true digital natives and have an expectation that technological solutions are part of their daily lives.
Key Takeaways That Ring True in 2023
When re-reading The Chronicle’s report, there were two clear takeaways that remain prominent for the persistence of Gen Z students:
Mental health plays a critical role both in going to college and persisting to graduation,
Gen Z students have high expectations when it comes to technology on campus.
So the question becomes: how can you use technology to support mental health and wellness for Gen Z college students?
Mental Health Concerns Lead the Way
Mental health has been, and continues to be, significantly impacted by the pandemic and one of the greatest challenges for Gen Z students. Mental health and wellbeing have become both incredibly important for the socially conscious Gen Z student looking at a college or university, as well as one of the biggest barriers to persistence faced by currently enrolled students. In a recent mental health survey of Gen Z students:
Of the 42% of Gen Z students who have a diagnosed mental health condition, 90% of them have anxiety and 78% experience depression. The third highest diagnosed mental health condition (ADD) lands much lower at 27%.
Close to one-third of Gen Zers reported their mental health in 2022 as bad, while one in four reported more bad days than good over a one month period.
62% of respondents reported taking a mental health day from work or school, averaging three mental health days over the course of a year.
When it comes to anxiety about the future, 85% are worried about their future success while 66% fear financial instability. The association between mental health and financial distress are inextricably linked as barriers to student persistence.
In our own research this winter, almost 40% of students cited mental health as the primary reason they were struggling academically or socially.
72% of Gen Z students believe that colleges and universities need to be doing more for mental health and well-being, and studies continue to showcase the value in prioritizing mental health on college campuses. Mental health was a top concern for Gen Z students heading into the fall of 2021, and it has become increasingly more important as we prepare for the fall 2023 class.
Technology Must Be Part of the Solution
Gen Z students expect a high-tech experience when they arrive on your campus. Period.
They’ve had unprecedented access and engagement with technology;
They have an in-depth understanding of how technology can and should work;
They see technology as an extension of who they are, how they communicate with others, and how they get information;
They use technology to build relationships, including with the people on your campus with whom they can connect for support.
Students highlight the role technology plays in their academic success and well-being and if you haven’t changed your strategies to include technology, this generation will require you to do so. Gen Z students are the first generation to only know a world with the internet. Their constant access to technology creates a world that functions faster, with instant communication and the ability to build relationships through the technology they use.
Embrace the technology. Use it to build relationships with your students, and help them build relationships with others. Consider AI-powered texting to provide immediate results to students seeking help with academic support, getting connected on campus, financial concerns, or mental health needs. This is support at scale for students who desperately need these resources.
Welcome technology onto your campuses as a way to support your students and help them persist. Gen Z students are used to, and welcome, support in the form of AI-powered text messaging. What may be strange or uncomfortable for previous generations is the way in which Gen Zers communicate daily, and even automated responses can feel like a meaningful and personal interaction for these students.
Lean into successful uses of technology on college campuses. AI-powered chat or text messaging have demonstrated results in connecting students with the resources they need. From a student struggling academically connected to academic support services to a student accessing much-needed mental health resources to a student who simply needed a text reminder to take a deep breath and focus on their personal wellbeing, technology for Gen Zers is an integral part of the way they work in the world.
Whether you're ready or not, technology is a part of your relationship with Gen Z. The quicker you adopt such strategies, the more likely you are to see these students establish connections and succeed on your campus.