Nearly two-thirds of Gen Z — those born from the mid- to late-90s to the early 2010s — plan or want to start their own business, according to newly released data from WP Engine and the Center for Generational Kinetics. As Gen Z students matriculate out of undergraduate programs and enter the professional world, graduate business programs are looking for ways to appeal to this socially conscious and politically active generation of digital natives.
But figuring out what these students want out of B-school and adapting programs to fit their needs is a daunting task — and one that programs may be lagging in, according to Nalisha Patel, the European regional director for the Graduate Management Admission Council, the global association of graduate business schools that administers the most popular MBA entrance exam.
‘THE GEN Z’S ARE HERE’
In early 2022, Patel spent two months interviewing 20 deans from graduate business programs around Europe for a comprehensive report titled “The Future of Graduate Management Education,” released last October. Through the insights and opinions of leaders in the industry, the interviews and subsequent report covered a variety of topics in examining what the future holds for business education in Europe.
One of the most pressing: How B-schools are handling the influx of Gen Z students to their programs.
It’s not an issue for a few years down the line, Patel tells Poets&Quants: “The Gen Z’s are here.” She explains that in Europe in 2022, the average age of GMAT test takers in Europe was 23 years old. By now, schools should already be modifying or expanding their curricula and outreach strategies to appeal to a new generation of students, Patel says — and if they haven’t, they need to move quickly to catch up.
GEN Z ESCHEWS THE TRADITIONAL
Gen Z grew up in a world very different from that of previous generations. Born in the age of the internet, Patel says, Gen Z students respond well to user-generated and video content, and want a learning experience that integrates a range of topics and hands-on learning approaches.
“Traditional teaching methods of lectures, seminars, field trips and takeaway readings are of incredibly low-interest to this generation,” she explains in her October 2022 article on Gen Z and business education, which she wrote based on the insights she gained from her interviews and outside research. While this new generation of students were raised with the internet and are skilled at technology, this doesn’t mean they want everything to be digital, particularly when it comes to learning.
In her report, Patel writes that almost a third of Gen Z respondents said “the lack of a hands-on experience is their biggest frustration with online learning” and nearly two-thirds wanted more exposure to real–world work and professional mentorships. “It’s about finding the right balance,” she says.
FITTING THE PRACTICAL & THE THEORETICAL
Patel says that in her conversations with deans, she found that most understood many of the significant ways the younger generation are unique as learners and consumers. The problem, she says, is that few have made meaningful, tangible changes to their programs as a result of this knowledge. “I’m yet to see lots and lots of people adapting how they either deliver their programs or … reach out to audiences to attract them to their programs,” Patel says.
Practical and theoretical learning “should fit together, it should be curated into a learning experience which feels integrated” with an emphasis on topics beyond the standard central tenets of business education, such as sustainability, data science, diversity and inclusion, and ethics. Patel explains that the new generation of students expects these subjects to be ingrained in the foundation of programs, not something covered in the occasional weeklong module or elective course.
This concept applies not only to teaching Gen Z in the classroom, but also to marketing to them as prospective students. To appeal to younger applicants, Patel explains, schools need to emphasize their commitments to things like inclusivity and social progress, and how this is reflected in their programs. They can also utilize new marketing strategies that are popular among young demographics, such as social media influencers.
AN INTERDISCIPLINARY WORLD & WORKFORCE
In her report, Patel describes the importance of personalization for this generation of students: “It’s no longer a ‘nice to have’, it’s an expectation … they seek programs uniquely personalized to their needs, and more and more these students know exactly what they want to get out of a program.”
She tells P&Q that it’s not just young learners who are looking for a personalized learning experience these days, “I think we’re all quite used to personalization these days and kind of have an expectation of curated experiences.” The same goes for integrating topics formerly considered “fringe” into business programs. “We are working in a much more interdisciplinary workforce, you need to be able to connect the dots,” she adds.
And she makes it clear that making these changes is about more than just attracting Gen Z to business school: finding ways to modernize and expand the scope of business programs makes them more relevant to the world today and makes students better-prepared to enter the modern business world.
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