A new generation is getting ready to enter the hallowed halls of higher education and in addition to bringing their devices to campus, they will also arrive with a new set of expectations on how they want to live, learn and experience college. This is the first year Generation Z students will be graduating from high school and descending on college and university campuses across the country—in record numbers, in fact—bringing their unique learning styles along with them. If academia plans to recruit, retain and engage these students, they will be up against some new challenges that will ultimately yield exciting opportunities for the future of educational institutions.
In a recent article authored by Goucher College President José Antonio Bowen, PhD, he outlines the importance of education leaders guiding the design of living and learning communities as well as educational spaces that align with the needs of the individual campus and encourage specifically desired outcomes. Dr. Bowen shares several ways college administrators can better position schools for success as the expectations around the college experience evolve.
Flexible Learning Spaces – Generation Z has never known a world without the Internet at their fingertips. So, they don’t believe that educational spaces are limited to the library, classroom or dorm room. Further, with all the books read online and Wi-Fi available throughout most campuses, this generation prefers to gather in small groups to study or work together on projects in any comfortable, convenient place. This means colleges and universities have to reimagine traditional study spaces as places that overlap with living and socializing.
To that end, new living-learning communities (LLCs) offer a sort of “incubator” for like-minded students who live together and share common academic, and sometimes entrepreneurial, interests and goals. These shared spaces encourage students to think critically and solve problems outside traditional educational spaces, with features such as collaborative workstations with state of the art technology, wall-length whiteboards and flexible seating.
Living Spaces that Encourage Engagement – It might be easy to write Gen Z-ers off as kids who can only communicate with others via selfies and tweets. However, studies indicate that they place a high value on personal interaction. Nearly half of university students said having a connection to other students and to campus services is a crucial factor when making housing decisions.
As this trend continues to grow, universities across the country are reimagining spaces to best fit the needs of the next generation of learners. For example, Goucher College found that student retention was higher for first-year students who lived in doubles or quads, and lower for those who lived in singles or triples. It was easy to see that singles were socially isolating, but they could only hypothesize that triples often presented a constantly shifting two-against-one dynamic. With this in mind, Goucher renovated dorms to feature more doubles and quads (with an emphasis on doubles that are more preferred by students).
They also took steps to create gathering spaces that foster social interaction, such as moving laundry rooms out of the basement and next to student lounges. They added larger community kitchens and break spaces. Goucher even made other smaller, strategic changes, such as adding Ethernet outlets to communal areas so students that needed higher speed bandwidth, such as gamers, were motivated to spend free time outside their dorm rooms.
Invite Diversity & Inclusion – The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that by 2020, over half of children under 18 will be part of a minority race or ethnic group. It’s not surprising that diversity is second nature to this demographic. It’s important that colleges and universities accommodate an increasingly diverse student body.
For example, the University of Michigan strives to promote inclusion in their student housing by hosting films, lectures, workshops, exhibits and other activities that promote cultural awareness in the dorms. In addition, each residential community also has a multicultural or minority-cultural lounge that provides a safe space for underrepresented students.
Make Students Integral to the Process – With a diverse student body comes diverse perspectives. It’s important to include students from different backgrounds, courses of study, interests and more to ensure that student living and learning environments accommodate an array of needs. For example, Goucher has a dance and arts program. When students said they needed more places to rehearse, the university added a dance and music rehearsal space near one lounge.
The next generation of students is seeking a different living and learning experience on campus than their predecessors. As educational leaders, it is our responsibility to understand their needs and include them in the process to develop sound strategies that will result in mutually beneficial outcomes. While accommodating their needs may seem like a challenge, it also presents an amazing opportunity to more effectively recruit, engage and retain students. Follow the President to President series to learn more about how colleges and universities can enhance their housing strategy to accommodate the dynamic needs of a changing student population and impact quality of life on campus.
Barry Telford is the CEO of Universities West for Sodexo North America and the President of Sodexo Canada. A strong advocate for the new performance frontier: Quality of Life, Mr. Telford believes that great performance is driven by strong, inclusive leadership based on family and community-centered values and a commitment to serve others. Mr. Telford serves on the Board of the Sodexo Stop Hunger Foundation, Toronto’s Second Harvest and the Canadian Council of Aboriginal Business (CCAB).