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Half of Graduating High School Seniors Have Changed Their Plans

Another Tell-Tale Sign That the Pandemic is Gen Z’s ‘Generation Defining Moment’

Gen Z high school senior looking at camera with laptop screen showing grad with CNBC logo on top left

  • The crisis has upended the future for Gen Z
  • High school seniors may delay or skip college and start working
  • Gen Z wants to maximize the value of their education starting where they are now

Historically, many graduating high school seniors have looked to traditional, brick and mortar universities as the natural next step to their formal education. These higher learning institutions are historically seen as a next step for many in their educational career to develop learning, skills, build a network, and create marketability for the future job market (not to mention have fun and build independence and self-reliance away from home).

However, in the last three months, since the pandemic swept across the globe, many graduating seniors are changing their higher education plans, according to a new survey. CGK President Jason Dorsey, generational researcher and author of the forthcoming book about Gen Z, Zconomy, shared his thoughts with CNBC about the new data as it relates to Gen Z and graduating high school seniors.

A Change in College Plans for Gen Z

As Jason shared with CNBC about Covid-19, “[It is] a generation defining moment.” This is important because these events will profoundly impact how Gen Z makes decisions regarding work, family, spending, and more going forward.

We already know that the experience Gen Z had as children and adolescents during the Great Recession of 2008 impacted how they looked at money, spending, saving, and work. At that time, many of them saw their parents go through the economic impacts of that event. Now they carry the financial lessons learned from that period and apply them to the decisions they are beginning to make about their own finances, including their college education.

Many in Gen Z are Thinking of Delaying College and Joining the Workforce

The study featured in the CNBC article revealed that many graduating high school seniors will either start working now or delay when they start college. As Jason shared with CNBC, “The fact that roughly half of graduating seniors have changed their plans as the result of a pandemic, which only really started three months prior to their graduation, shows the depth, severity, and impact of Covid-19 on the generation.”

Gen Z Will Re-examine the Return of Investment of Attending College

In the midst of the pandemic, these recent high school graduates are going to look at college—particularly paying for a very expensive college—in a whole new light. As Jason continued, “Seeing Gen Z’s worry about attending college, paying for college, and the value they’re going to get from the experience can have an outsized impact on their future should they choose not to attend college or pick a different college than planned.”

Long Term Implications for Gen Z and Future Employers

If Gen Z changes their education path, it will have significant long-term implications for them and for their employers and families. In the short-term, not attending college means they could get a full-time job now and start developing workplace skills. However, the job market is extremely difficult right now, and adults without college degrees could potentially earn materially less than their peers with college degrees.

On the flip side, choosing to attend college now could be financially costly, require Gen Z taking on debt at a fragile time in the economy, and with little certainty that in four years the education they chose will pay off in a rewarding career or job. In addition, Gen Z’s parents are also impacted because they often are helping to financially support Gen Z at college and yet may themselves be out of work now and could benefit from another income source for their household.

All of these scenarios, along with the tragic impact of the pandemic, make this higher education decision highly consequential. At CGK, we will be watching this closely!

How Will You Recruit, Retain, and Motivate Gen Z Graduates as They Enter the Workforce?

In these extraordinary times, leaders across industries need the latest insights into the behaviors and attitudes of Gen Z as job seekers, employees, and emerging leaders. It is essential that companies and organizations engage this important generation in the right way now to build their talent pipeline and prepare for long-term success.

At CGK, we lead national and international studies on Gen Z and how they see the world. We uncover what they think about work, shopping, technology, education, voting, and much more. As part of our strategic advisory work, webinars, and virtual keynote presentations, we provide these research-based insights to leaders to help inform their key strategic decisions to drive measurable results.

Contact our friendly team here to learn how we can be your trusted generational strategy resource through this time of uncertainty.

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