Why Have Graduate Student Expectations Changed?

Erin MinsartVice President of Integrated MarketingFebruary 22, 2024

A Marketer’s Thoughts on Changing Student Expectations

There is no doubt that Millennials and GenZ have driven dramatic change in higher education because the expectations of these generations are changing everything. Add in the pandemic, and the changes in expectations accelerated across all industries—healthcare, employment, and goods and services—because almost everything can now be delivered online or virtually. Life doesn’t have to be in person now, and in many cases, these generations have little use for traditional, in-person models.

Blog on Why Student Expectations Have Changed. Slide showing 65% of grad students are Millennials.

What does this mean for higher ed marketing and positioning?

First, it might be true that everything you think you know about Millennials is wrong. On one hand, Millennials are careful about spending because they’re facing a future with less wealth than previous generations and many have not yet attained their peak spending power. On the other hand, the good news is that the sheer volume of this demographic has a high buying capacity, and both Millennial’s and Gen Z place a high value on learning and development.

How does this translate into marketing expectations?

Millennials are not as brand loyal as previous generations. That means personalization and customization are key. Since they have not yet achieved their full spending power, they are also more concerned with career outcomes and the return on their investment. Many in this generation also value happiness and life experience over a larger paycheck with little work-life balance. This is a huge contrast to Gen X which has been more motivated by earning potential and has sacrificed work-life balance.

In situations where your institution is not the most affordable program, you must focus on value and differentiators, what’s in it for them, and why are you different. Things like demonstrating that the modality matches needs, showcasing career outcomes and job placement, student support, and leveraging the strength of faculty and peer networks can often outweigh the costs for the right prospect. All these things must be front and center on your institutional page, on program pages, and everywhere else you know that students interact with you.

When you are among the costliest or most prestigious institutions/programs in your market, the instinct for decades has been to focus messaging on quality and prestige. While this should be a part of your positioning, the expectations—and concerns—that are driving their decision-making do not change. This means that messaging about career outcomes, student support, and leveraging alumni networks for career success are just as important as they are at other types of institutions.

Blog on Why Student Expectations Have Changed. Slide showing enrollment factors in graduate student enrollment

Ultimately, Millennials and Gen Z expect marketers to understand their preferences and deliver targeted messages. They have been raised on the internet yet want meaningful connections, so they are more likely to trust authentic content. They are tech-savvy generations that consume user-generated content and social media influencer marketing, with little use for traditional advertising. It’s all about the right message, in the right place and at the right time. Millennials and Gen Z want and expect you to know them, and this means that a mobile-first approach, social media, streaming TV, and video content reign supreme.

Talk with our digital marketing and enrollment experts

RNL works with colleges and universities across the country to ensure their digital marketing is optimized and filling their academic programs. Reach out today for a complimentary consultation to discuss:

  • Search engine optimization
  • Digital marketing
  • Lead generation
  • Digital engagement throughout the enrollment funnel

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About the Author

Erin Minsart

Erin Minsart is the vice president of integrated marketing at RNL, leading a team of digital strategists to ensure campaign success for our college and university clients. She also oversees the development of lead generation...

Read more about Erin's experience and expertise

Reach Erin by e-mail at Erin.Minsart@RuffaloNL.com.

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