How Does Gen Z’s Distrust In Higher Education Impact The Labor Market

How does gen Zs distrust in higher education impact the labor market
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    Generation Z represents young people born between 1997-2012 and a group that has held the media spotlight for the past three years. As the most diverse generation in American history, they receive a lot of attention, and everyone, from marketers to educational institutions, wants to understand what makes them different.

    Even though they share many similarities with their Millennial predecessors, Gen Z didn’t grow up with advanced technology and internet access. Most were born into it. 

    That is one of the most prominent factors defining this generation. They only know the world where answers to most of their questions are available with one click. 

    Access To 24h Worldwide News And Economic Uncertainty

    Since they became self-aware, Gen Z individuals could access the latest reports, news, and studies, giving them more insights into every aspect of life at an early age. It was impossible to hide the brutal reality from this tech-savvy generation and conceal details that could subdue their curiosity and determination to stand up for their rights. 

    The same goes for the political, societal, and educational systems. Gen Z is well aware of the world they grew up in, and that many odds were against them from the beginning. They witnessed various historical moments and disruptions, including Donald Trump’s presidency, the pandemic, and financial instability. 

    When all these tumultuous events come together, they result in a generation that questions everything, including whether there’s still value in pursuing higher education. 

    How Does Gen Z Feel About Higher Education?

    Even though public trust in higher education institutions is among the most critical factors for successfully promoting college endowments and enrollments, young people are increasingly skeptical about whether getting a degree is as valuable as it was decades ago. According to Morning Consult’s 2022 report, Gen Z adults report the lowest trust in U.S. universities of any generation. 

    This generational cohort believes colleges and universities must earn their trust and agree that public opinion on higher education will become more significant in the future. They care about a university’s brand, and if not much information or reviews are available, they will likely not deem it credible. 

    But the issue is much deeper than whether an educational institution shares regular updates on social media or writes compelling LinkedIn posts. Gen Z questions the point of pursuing higher education altogether, and nearly 50 percent see less and less value in college degrees. 

    However, the good news for community colleges is that this generation may even prefer two-year degree paths. On the flip side, Gen Z is among the most entrepreneurial generations at a young age, and many favor working right after high school, as that gives them real-world experience right away. 

    No wonder one in five Gen Z’s may choose not to go to college. They have seen that social media platforms allow non-traditional career paths that don’t require degrees. For many, that’s enticing, illuminating why 45 percent of young Americans want to earn from sharing content online. 

    The data coincides with ResumeBuilder findings that 1/3 of recent college grads are working at jobs that don’t require a college education, and one in five have jobs unrelated to their majors. The data also gives more context to why undergraduate enrollment rates in U.S. colleges and universities have consistently declined since 2011. 

    Although Gen Z doesn’t particularly favor traditional four-year degrees over community colleges, the broken partnership between the latter and employers doesn’t help. Young people are already losing trust in higher education and doubting they should invest years of their lives into pursuing it. 

    These emerging attitudes have significant implications for the labor market and the future of colleges and universities. Here’s what employers and educators can expect and why their current approach is not making the situation any easier. 

    How Does Gen-Z Attitude Toward Higher Education Impact The Labor Market?

    A college degree might not be necessary for every job, but it boosts an employee’s odds of being hired and receiving a higher salary while also helping the economy. Many roles and positions require specific skills and knowledge typically acquired during higher education. 

    Middle-skill jobs, which are becoming increasingly critical to fill, don’t demand a four-year degree, but having more than a high school diploma is highly recommended. But even though job openings continue to elevate at 10.5 million, many companies still struggle to attract compatible candidates with adequate abilities and experiences. 

    Economic uncertainty might force some job seekers to accept jobs they wouldn’t otherwise, but the majority will face talent shortages throughout the decade. But as long as there’s a significant disconnect between employers, educators, and candidates, this problem will continue. 

    Companies want to hire candidates with enough skill proficiency to perform their jobs well, and many are ditching college degree requirements, especially for middle-skills jobs. But according to The Partnership Imperative report, employers aren’t doing enough to establish stable and long-term partnerships with community colleges and co-design programs that would encourage more students to complete their studies and enter the workforce right after. 

    Instead, businesses wait for educators to take the first step and implement courses aligned with their objectives and needs. But without effective collaboration, they can’t expect students to possess all the relevant technical and foundational skills and knowledge. 

    On the flip side, community colleges can’t offer job guarantees to their students, which would be a powerful incentive to get a degree. They also must work on providing better conditions for Gen Z, as this generation rarely settles. 

    Today’s youth want to study and work, but they want their time spent at college to be valuable and to result in safe employment. Moreover, they want fair and competitive salaries and flexible work conditions. 

    Currently, many colleges and employers aren’t creating enough stimulus for Gen Z to choose higher education and regular employment over, for example, earning attractive compensation from online content creation. But that doesn’t mean all is lost and there’s no way to turn things around.

    However, community colleges must acknowledge what’s not working well and seek ways to address it. 

    Can Community Colleges Still Woo Gen Z?

    Every generation is unique, and community colleges must identify what makes them different and address it in their approach, offering, and programs. Gen Z wants their higher education to lead to safe employment and provide them with relevant skills they will need in their future careers.

    But employers claim that recent community college graduates don’t possess the specific abilities they require, showing that these students aren’t receiving a sufficiently up-to-date education. Hence, the reputation of community colleges has suffered in their eyes, which affects the opportunities graduates get. 

    Thus, even when these students aspire to transfer to four-year universities after concluding two-year programs, they encounter complex transferring processes. Their credits are often not articulatable or insufficient to meet degree requirements in their field of interest. 

    Part-time and diverse students encounter even more challenges. – The former often take longer to complete their degrees, and by the six-year mark, 68 percent drop out. 

    Only 23 percent of Black first-time and full-time community students acquire a diploma within three years, and not everyone graduates from the same college where they started. That things are more difficult for community college students proves that they are also 14.5 percent less likely to obtain a bachelor’s degree within nine years than those who enrolled in these programs directly. 

    Yet, that’s not where their problems end. The choice of school and program also makes a difference, as an Associate of Arts degree in general studies or liberal arts leads to only marginally higher earnings than with a high school diploma. 

    Moreover, Millennials with two-year degrees saw their earnings shrink over time compared to those with four-year degrees. Hence, associate degrees and community colleges rarely guarantee a well-paid and certain career path, which can be highly off-putting for younger people.

    Gen Z has already seen how their predecessors struggle with student debts and difficulties in finding jobs related to their majors. Thus, they understand that community college graduates and associate degree-holders will have to compete against each other and often lose to those with bachelor’s diplomas. 

    On top of that, community colleges are no longer an inexpensive and safe path to middle-class living, and the costs of obtaining an associate degree have increased. Hence, Gen Z will hardly drastically change their minds about higher education until community college leaders and educators don’t solve these hurdles. 

    Access to information and various job alternatives that didn’t exist a decade ago give this generation insights into the good and bad sides of enrolling in community colleges and universities. Many are willing to choose non-traditional professional paths and ditch college life altogether, as the latter no longer guarantees safe employment and competitive salaries. 

    Does that mean that educators can no longer attract potential students? The answer is no, as long as they partner up with employers, co-design relevant programs, and offer job guarantees. It’s also necessary to make transferring to four-year programs and recognizing credits a smoother process. 

    Only by addressing the challenges that community college students experience can these institutions woo the new generation. Otherwise, they risk declining enrollment rates and a lack of skilled graduates. 

    Closing Thoughts

    Although Gen Z has a lower trust in higher education and questions whether it’s worth pursuing, community colleges and universities can still implement the necessary changes and updates to provide a better experience for all their students and graduates. That requires continuous work, collaboration with employers, overhauling programs, and ensuring people can find jobs after graduating and receive compensation that matches the cost of living. 

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