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Gen-Z's Search for Personalization in Higher Ed

By: Annie on Dec 12, 2018 2:00:00 AM
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With the emergence of new technology such as AI, the way students interact with their institution is changing. The one-size-fits-all model that previous generations experienced in higher-ed is no longer being accepted by today’s students. Thanks to services like Amazon, Netflix, and Spotify (to name a few), Generation-Z expect a more personalized experience when it comes to their education.

Who is Generation Z?

Gen-Z makes up the majority of today’s students born after 1997 (give or take), and by the year 2020 it is estimated that 40% of the population will be made up of this generation. Known as “digital-natives,” these individuals have never lived in a time without internet, they’ve never used a landline or phone-booth, and are used to being connected 24/7.

What Does This Mean?

Seeing as how 97% of Gen-Z own smartphones and spend over 4 hours a day on their devices, campuses across the country are beginning to see the benefit of meeting students where they are: on mobile. However, since space on their phone is limited, Gen-Z won’t keep an app if they don’t find it useful or valuable which is why it is not enough to simply have a mobile version of a school’s website.

Search for Personalization in Higher Ed

Where Personalization Comes In

To keep students engaged with their campus app, institutions are turning to the Netflix model; that is, curated information tailored to each individual user. Thanks to AI, institutions can collect data on a student’s likes, interests and past behaviour, and surface useful content to them when they need it. For example, a first generation student who had previously applied for financial aid might be given a reminder that this semester’s financial aid deadline is approaching, or a student in their final year of study might be invited to a career fair.

Privacy Concerns

One of the main concerns that arise among users regarding personalization is data privacy. While previous generations may be weary to give up personal information, studies have shown that 83% of today’s consumers are willing to share their data to enable a personalized experience. That being said, companies who collect data must be transparent about how they collect and use it in order to be trusted by the consumer. The same rule applies to colleges and universities. As long as institutions (and mobile app developers) are open and honest about what data they are collecting and to what end, students will appreciate the personalized functionality they get back, and return to the app time and time again.


In order to help students succeed, colleges and universities need to meet them on their phones. While the argument has been made that by helping students navigate higher ed in this way, we are ultimately stunting their ability to be independent, a counter point must be made that no generation before Gen-Z has had to deal with such a tremendous amount of information. Institutions not only need to help students sift through the inordinate amount of data and information being thrown at them, but also give them access to the tools they need to excel in higher ed.

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