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Preparing Your Campus for the Next Generation of Students

Adapting the institution to meet changing expectations
University Business, December 2016

Over the next decade, higher education will experience a significant shift, as the millennial generation gives way to “Generation Z.” As a result of this multi-generational shift in student expectations, institutions will have to adapt how they do business across departments, from financial aid to the business office to student services. This will include using social media effectively to communicate with students and their families—particularly in the financial aid and business offices. Communication, academic differentiation and alumni relations should be important areas of improvement for any college or university over the next ten years.

In this web seminar, two experts from Nelnet Business Solutions discussed how to meet the needs and expectations of the next generation of students, focusing on social media strategy, emerging communication technologies, and the impact of the unique online and mobile behavior and expectations of these students.

Director of Marketing
and Communications
Nelnet Business Solutions

I’m sure you’ve noticed that the expectations of the students, parents and alumni you serve are changing noticeably and rapidly. What worked for your campus 10 or even five years ago may not work now. And what worked this year may not be effective in another five.
You are experiencing the last group of millennials coming through your campus. Within the next freshman-to-senior lifecycle, they will have graduated and joined the workforce. Then you will need to shift the things you know about the millennial generation to other audiences—to young alumni, grad students, maybe even adult nontraditional students.

For the undergrad side, you want to be focused on Generation Z, or students born after 1995. It’s time to think about what they want, because they’re probably already on your campus. For millennials, everything was about the Internet of Things. Generation Z expects the Internet of Everything. You can be connected. You are the connection point. A Fitbit is a good example, because you are connecting your own health information into the internet. Social media is another example—it is providing an infrastructure for people to connect, versus just providing infrastructure. That’s what Gen Z students expect while they’re on your campus.

Issues of concern to Gen Z
There are a few main issues that affect their worldview. The ability to find a job is absolutely at the forefront of their mind, even at a young age. They’re also extremely concerned with the cost of education. Personal financial health is also something that they’re considering. They saw their parents, maybe during the Great Recession, losing investments and struggling to pay bills. This is a generation that understands what a budget is, how to use it, and the importance of saving. They may not do it, but they have more information about personal financial health than the millennial generation did.

How do we address their financial concerns? This comes back to your campus in a lot of interesting ways. Considering their critical concerns about the cost and responsibility of student debt—which will be on their mind through the whole student lifecycle—you want to think about a few key things, such as exploring new pricing models that reduce debt load. Watch and learn from the results of colleges experimenting with new approaches. Are you offering tuition payment options that meet students where they are?

Student services providers on campus can do things to alleviate the concerns for millennial and Gen Z students. The first is virtual counseling tools. Instead of having people wait in line or go into an office to reach someone, think about doing instant-messaging customer service models, where students can reach someone from a laptop in their dorm room, or from their cell phone. Also include features such as interactive calculators, estimators, interactive forms and electronic signatures. All of these can make a huge difference in how this generation views your institution.

Marketing Manager
Nelnet Business Solutions

The importance of social media
Social media isn’t necessarily a new way to reach our student audience, but there may be some things you can be doing that your school hasn’t explored yet, and some things that you should be thinking about as Gen Z moves in.

It’s important to participate in social media for several reasons. First, you can meet your audience where they already are. Second, your communication methods with millennials and Gen Z need to be interactive and accessible on mobile devices, and social is both of those things. Third, customer service needs to continue to be top of mind when this new generation comes in, and social media can help streamline those efforts. Lastly, social media is one of the most inexpensive marketing and communication methods.

Since 2006, all age groups have seen a steady increase in social media use. Among 18- to 29-year-olds, 90 percent are already active on social networking sites. Among Gen Z students (ages 13 to 17), 89 percent are already on social media. Based on these numbers, we can’t deny that social media provides us with a lot of potential to reach our collegiate audience.

In addition to getting your message across, you’ll reap some additional benefits by using social media: You may see a decrease in the number of phone calls to your office, which helps if you’re understaffed. You will appear more credible. You’ll be able to engage with students in the way that they want to engage. You’ll be able to better monitor students’ concerns, as they may be more likely to provide feedback behind a computer screen rather than in person. And finally, if nothing else, social media helps you improve your search engine optimization on your school’s website or your department’s webpage.

If you’re short on resources and able to choose only one social media platform to use, I recommend Facebook, as it’s where you have the highest number of users to reach, and where you will be able to perform the most functions. You can create live or recorded videos, as well as photos, links, surveys and event planning. When you’re thinking about your incoming generation, the next platforms to consider will be Instagram and Snapchat.

Once you have determined which platforms you want to be on, create a policy that clearly outlines the rules and regulations of your social pages. This would be something that your team can easily reference when you’re making a decision about what to post, or how to respond to a comment. This is especially useful if you have a lot of turnover in your department, or if you have a student running your pages.

Then set some goals. What do you want to accomplish by using social media? Do you want to reduce phone calls to your office? Do you want to increase your credibility with students? Do you want to teach them about financial literacy or how to pay for tuition? Is recruitment one of your goals? Do you want to monitor student concerns? Based on those goals, you can then determine the content you want to put out there.

If you have time to check out only one university’s social media strategy, I highly recommend the University of Michigan. They have an entire team dedicated to maintaining the strategic direction of their social presence. If you visit their social media website, you will see loads of information, including useful strategies and best practices.

To watch this web seminar in its entirety, visit

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