As I steadily approach the birth of my first child, my mind has been reeling thinking about the type of interests he will have and how that will influence his future decisions. What type of technology will he use? How will he make purchases or influence our household purchases? Will he attend college? If so, in what form?
In higher ed, we tend to think of our prospective students in terms of generations—clumping decades together because it is one of the most common ways to document differences in attitudes and behaviors. To start finding answers to my questions, I knew I needed to start by identifying and digging into the generation he will belong to…Generation Alpha.
As a Millennial, I have seen many changes over the years that have made me wary of starting a family. For instance, 9/11, the economic crisis of 2008, school shootings, massive student loan debt, skyrocketing housing prices, and Gen Z’s dependence on electronic devices.
Not every change over the years has been bad though. Gen Z has taken note of the mistakes of previous generations and has helped lead the charge for some great changes. According to Michael T. Robinson- Founder and Career Coach of CareerPlanner.com, some of these positives include practical statistics like less drinking and drugs in high school and less teen pregnancy, while also honing specific character traits like being more cautious, tolerant, and discerning.
The new kids on campus
Why is any of this important for higher ed? Understanding how current events and trends affect each generation and how they see their future is valuable as we develop institutional strategic plans. We already know that the student landscape is changing and the value of higher education is under question. We also know that skills-based careers are becoming more prevalent and that the 2026 student cliff (a drop in enrolled students across higher ed) is a real concern. Although we have a while before Generation Z makes it through the enrollment funnel (the youngest are only eight years old), have no fear… Generation Alpha will arrive with unique needs and interests.
Changing the future of education
According to Adrianne Pasquarelli and E.J. Shultz with Ad Age, kids of Generation Alpha are the ones to watch. With birth years between 2010–2024, Gen Alphas are the tech-savvy children of Millennials. According to Mark McCrindle, a social researcher in Australia who coined the phrase Generation Alpha, these children will make up the largest generation in the world’s history.
Although research is still being conducted, we know some common trends we’ll see.
Generation Alpha will…
- Outnumber the Baby Boomers
- Shape the social media landscape
- Experience increased screen time
- Have shorter attention spans
- Become the most globally connected generation due to their technology usage
- Stay in education longer and delay their progress for things like careers and marriage
- Struggle with social formation due to screen saturation
- Focus their education on learning specific skills
- Experience marketing through influencers and personalized advertising
- Have the most formal education, yet have less proficiency in earning practical skills, assessing risk, setting and achieving goals, and developing hands-on competencies
What does their future of education look like? This generation will…
- Become the most adaptable thanks to educational outcomes
- Have a need for shifting to visual, multimodal and hands-on methods of educating
- Need help early on to develop specific skills such as STEM, social competencies, entrepreneurial skills, financial literacy, and much more
- See a rise in skills related to robotics, coding, social media marketing, app development, and big data analytics
- Have to improve in leadership skills
- Need institutions to focus on their wellbeing and exceed their parents’ expectations
What does your institution need to do with this information? For starters, these insights will allow you to begin shifting and diversifying your program offerings to better align with the future generation’s needs. Having a better understanding of how parents will interact with their Alpha kids will also help prep institutions for what is important to these parents as they encourage their kids to attend college. A shift in marketing efforts will need to start sooner rather than later. Using social media, campus influencers, and other emerging means of technology will increase your chances of standing out amongst your peers in the eyes of the Alphas. We also recommend looking at ways to partner with local K-12 schools to prep students for specific skills in areas such as STEM, financial literacy, entrepreneurship, etc.
Tell us what you think
If you are preparing for a future Alpha like me, we have to start now to set our kids up for success. Personally, this is an eye-opener to make sure that I am spending time teaching him the basics that I grew up with such as communication, in-person connection, and offline play. Although I can’t (and don’t want to) shield him from all technology, we will teach a balance between tech and hands-on activities. Much will change between now and when he prepares for college, but I know that social media and streaming platforms will heavily influence his choices. The future is definitely digital when it comes to Generation Alpha.