Gen Z Prioritizes Return on Investment in Business Education

Gen Z students want financial independence and stability, according to a new report, and prioritize return on investment as they look for business schools.
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Bennett Leckrone is a news writer for BestColleges. Before joining BestColleges, Leckrone reported on state politics with the nonprofit news outlet Maryland Matters as a Report for America fellow. He previously interned for The Chronicle of Higher Ed...
Published on June 14, 2023
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  • Gen Z students want a good return on investment from their business education, both financially and emotionally, according to a new Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) report.
  • Gen Z students are optimistic about their personal futures despite worries about large-scale issues like climate change and political unrest.
  • Prospective students from Gen Z are focused on stability and achieving a good work-life balance and see graduate management education as a means of attaining those goals.
  • Gen Z students highlighted real-world applications of their education and transferable skills as they looked for programs, according to the report.

Stability is key to Gen Z students as they look for graduate business schools, according to a new report, with Gen Zers prioritizing return on investment to set themselves up for fulfilling personal lives.

Gen Z students are optimistic about their personal futures after the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new report from the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC), although they were concerned about large-scale issues like climate change, political conflict, and economic uncertainty.

"Despite the odds, most Gen Zers report personal optimism — they are excited to leave their homes and start their lives," GMAC's Gen Z in the GME Pipeline report reads.

"But existential threats like climate change and social injustice still weigh heavily. Candidates have both these motivations and anxieties on their minds as they plan their careers and consider the type of education that will help them achieve their goals."

GMAC spoke with 18- to 24-year-old students looking to pursue a graduate degree in management as part of the report and also used data from their wide-ranging 2023 Prospective Students Survey to supplement submissions from Gen Z students.

Gen Z students see graduate management education (GME) as a way to achieve their goals of long-term stability, according to the report. Based on results from the earlier 2023 Prospective Students Survey, 79% of candidates from Gen Z cited "wanting to enhance their life and develop their potential" for pursuing graduate management education.

Making more money wasn't the only motivator for Gen Z students pursuing a graduate business degree, according to the qualitative study.

"Jobs and income are only part of what Gen Z want to hear about in terms of their possible outcomes," the report reads. "They want to be able to balance their professional and personal responsibilities. They want to feel valued and fulfilled."

The cost of a degree and mental health concerns present barriers to Gen Z students looking to pursue a business education, and respondents want personalized advice from students, alumni, family, and friends in order to be sure their degree will be worth it both financially and emotionally, according to the report.

What Gen Z Students Want From Graduate Business School

Gen Z students are more likely to want to study in-person than millennials: 72% of millennials said they wanted to study in-person in the 2023 Prospective Students Survey compared with 87% of Gen Z prospective students.

But Gen Z students don't want only traditional brick-and-mortar options, according to the new GMAC report: Respondents said they want flexibility and options to learn both remotely and in-person.

"Gen Zers say the pandemic has made clear that technology — and evolving social norms about online and hybrid work — means work can be done from anywhere when needed," the report reads.

"As the first fully digital generation, technology has touched every part of their lives. So even if in-person program delivery is far and away their first choice, they expect to be able to leverage digital tools to participate remotely or catch up with a recording based on their personal circumstances on a given day."

Gen Z students largely wanted to see real-world examples and practices in their business curriculum, and they also want skills that can transfer across multiple industries.

"Given many are in the early stages of thinking about their careers, they are most interested in giving themselves options in the future," the report reads.

A Morning Consult survey last year found that Gen Z adults have less trust in U.S. colleges and universities than older generations amid ongoing enrollment declines. Many prospective Gen Z students questioned whether college was worth the cost in a BestColleges survey last year, citing the financial burden of rising tuition costs.