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Cracking the code to Gen Z student retention in higher ed

student sitting on curb with backpack smilingg

“What has changed since the days of running through the same acquisition and retention playbook year after year without friction or major disruptions?”

This question was posed by our own Product Manager, Harriet Morris, as she kicked off a session about community building at our Unibuddy Connect 2022 conference. 

One could argue that change has been brought about by a series of tremors which have rocked higher ed – movements seemingly beyond our control. Reasons for instability range from changing technology to a poor economy to something as simple as alternative paths to careers which don’t involve higher ed. But, according to Morris, the answer is so much more obvious – and complicated: “Gen Z.”

Gen Z, a generation born between 1996 and 2010, represents a cohort of true revolutionaries. They are breaking down walls and setting new norms. They won’t settle for how things have always been done. They expect innovation. And most importantly, they want to see all of this change in the world of higher education. 

So, what’s the secret to cracking the Gen Z code? 

Here are our top-three ways to crack  the code to Gen Z student retention:

Secret #1: Embrace student-to-student connections

Did you know that US universities experience an average 20% student melt rate? That means that one-fifth of those students you work so hard to recruit won’t ever show up on campus. Ouch! 

Exploring universities and sending in applications is one thing, but it all becomes extremely real when it comes time for students to pack their bags and step foot on campus. To help make this transition, it’s been proven that students appreciate having a peer support system to lean on. In fact, 92% of Gen Z students say that connecting with other students along their search journey is beneficial to them. 

Related: The melt dilemma: What are Gen Z’s doubts all about?

It’s human nature to seek out others going through the same experience. Sharing insecurities, seeking advice, and building relationships all play a pivotal role in helping incoming students make confident decisions. 

By providing your incoming students with a way to make these human connections, you can facilitate the kind of environment that builds confidence. At the end of the day, confident well connected students are the answer to lowering melt and increasing retention.

Secret #2: Identify student fears and alleviate them

In our recent survey of over 1,200 Gen Z students, we asked this group about their biggest fears before arriving on campus. We didn’t ask respondents to order a pre-made list we curated or rank the answers we thought would be most relevant. Instead, we collected open ended responses to have the most unfiltered and raw perspective. The answers were fascinating. 

Students had fears about failing academically, adapting to a new environment (mainly getting lost on campus) and being able to afford their education. But the number one answer among respondents was the fear of not making friends. Students said they were nervous about not fitting in. This especially rings true in a post-pandemic era where there is a greater sense of isolation among teenagers and young adults. 

Related: How to leverage the win-win of student-to-student connections

As a follow-up question in that same survey, we asked respondents to explain how those fears could be alleviated. The top three answers all had to do with making connections – either with fellow students before arrival, with current students to ask questions, or with professors before starting classes. 

Students will not only show up to campus, but actually stay at your institution if you enable those connections to happen.

Secret #3: Build your community and students will come

Gen Z are true digital natives who rely on technology for nearly everything. And while this can be beneficial, it can also be overwhelming. There are thousands of messaging and communication platforms available today, making it extremely difficult to bring your incoming students together to help foster those critical human connections. 

The upside is that as a university, you have the unique opportunity to provide a safe place for those connections to happen. Unibuddy Community allows you to invite students directly, set up groups that relate to specific university topics, moderate conversations, and even help students find their friends. 

Want to get started on cracking the Gen Z code? Let us show you how with a personalized demo of Unibuddy Community – our solution to help students find their people on your campus.

Book a product demo with one of our University Partnership Executives today.