Portrait of Generation Z
National survey examines the contours of Generation Z in America
What matters most to today’s high school students? How should the U.S. higher education system adapt to meet their needs? In partnership with Northeastern University, FTI Consulting surveyed over 1,000 members of Generation Z – those born in the mid ’90s or later – to uncover their views on higher education, their future goals and expectations, the role of technology in their daily lives, and their attitudes toward social and political topics. The results revealed that Generation Z is highly self-directed, demonstrated by a strong desire to work for themselves, study entrepreneurship, and design their own programs of study in college.
According to the survey, 63 percent of the respondents—all between the ages of 16 and 19—said they want to learn about entrepreneurship in college, including how to start a business. Nearly three out of four (72 percent) said that colleges should allow students to design their own course of study or major. In addition, 42 percent said they expect to work for themselves at some point, nearly four times higher than the actual percentage of self-employed Americans. This finding was even more pronounced among African-Americans (60 percent) and Hispanics (59 percent).
The individualism of Generation Z does not appear to be at odds with achieving their goals through a traditional higher education framework. Eighty-one percent said obtaining a college degree is important to having the career they want—compared to 74 percent from a 2012 FTI and Northeastern survey of the general public. Among Generation Z respondents, 65 percent say the benefits of a college degree outweigh the costs.
Despite these findings, respondents have trepidation about the cost of college, with 67 percent saying they are concerned about being able to afford college. Generation Z appears to be particularly averse to student loan debt; 25 percent say they don’t think any debt is manageable and 44 percent saying they could only handle debt payments of $100 a month. Financial worries for Generation Z extend beyond college, with 64 percent saying they are concerned about being able to get a job and 60 percent expressing concern about having enough money.
This financial anxiety—perhaps incubated in the Great Recession—is coupled with a strong desire to become more financially educated and to obtain real-world experience. Eighty-five percent said they want to be taught practical skills in college such as financial planning and saving for the future. Seventy-nine percent believe their college education should include some form of professional experience such as internships.