In the age of globalization, it’s no surprise Generation Z members feel pressure about what to be when they grow up. They are also acutely aware of the state of many Millennials who are paying off large amounts of student debt and working in jobs paying less than they had anticipated.
Even so, Generation Z remains focused on a four-year degree. Planning to get that degree varies by ethnicity. It is highest among Asians at 92% followed by Hispanics at 85% and African Americans at 84%. Anglos planned to get a four-year degree at the lowest rate at 74%. Perhaps this group is jaded by the Great Recession more than other groups due to their parents’ inability to pay for their college. The Recession also likely contributed to the view that a four-year degree is inconsequential for career stability.
Based on our research into Generation Z, it is clear these young people are under intense pressure to choose early and choose wisely.
In late September, I moderated a Generation Z and Millennial focus group in Dallas during the Career Colleges and Schools of Texas annual conference. What we heard from the Generation Z kids was evocative. They have to choose a career path, called an endorsement, by the time they are in 10th grade and are strongly discouraged from making any changes along the way to graduation.
One girl, 16-year-old Lupita P., told us, “I picked teaching because I really like working with kids. But now that I am learning more about what teaching pays here, I don’t want to do it. But I’ve been told it’s too late since I had already chosen this path and the concentration of the classes I’ve been taking makes it hard for me to change. I’m stuck!”
We also learned from both African-American and Hispanic participants that getting a four-year degree has been preached to them as the “only option” to be successful — especially if they are to be the first in their families to graduate from college. And at their high schools, tours were being organized to visit four-year degree-conferring colleges but no other options. So these kids weren’t considering community college to hold education costs down nor were they exposed to trade schools.
This comes at a time in the U.S. when we are lacking skilled workers in so many categories like construction, health care, and energy that offer good living wages without the burden of so much student debt if a trade profession is attained. What seems obvious is that Generation Z is headed for another student loan crisis unless more options are offered to them and minority groups will be hit hardest. Not to mention hundreds of thousands of jobs that will go unfilled.