The Plurals Are Coming: What Universities Need to Know

Submitted by on Mon, 05/23/16

They’re referred to alternately as Plurals or Generation Z.

Whichever name you favor, the fact is their day is approaching and their impact will be profound.

Just when you thought you had Millennials nearly figured out, here comes the next generation that will have a dramatic effect on American culture, academia, technology and business.

In 2014, the last Millennial turned 18 and graduated from high school, a fact which meant that the entire youth population in America was officially comprised of a new generation—the Plurals, according to a report from Magid Generational Strategies entitled “The First Generation of the Twenty-First Century – An Introduction to The Pluralist Generation.”

But who are the Plurals, or Generation Z?

To begin with – they’re members of society born in 1995 or later. And by some accounts they’re going to be a population tsunami – because more than a quarter of Americans belong to the Pluralist/Gen Z demographic, and with each birth, the segment is growing.

While researchers are just beginning to fully understand this giant swath of the population and their potential impact on the future, a few things are already clear.

The Characteristics of Plurals
A handful of agencies, individuals and research organizations are leading the way when it comes to defining the Plurals. Among them is the previously mentioned Magid Generational Strategies, whose extensive report provides a snapshot of what to expect. In particular, the Magid study notes that Plurals are:

  • The most positive about America becoming more ethnically diverse
  • Existing in the most diverse social circles
  • The least likely to believe the “American dream”
  • Affected by blended gender roles they’ve witnessed at home
  • The most ethnically diverse generation to date

They’re also a generation that cares deeply about the world, with 60% hoping to hold jobs that impact the planet, according to a compilation of research called “Meet Generation Z: Forget Everything You Learned About Millennials,” prepared by Sparks & Honey.

About 76% of them are concerned about humanity’s impact on the planet and another 26% currently volunteer.

Yet, this is all just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Plurals.

The Impact of Plurals on Technology and Higher Education
While many schools, companies, and organizations are still struggling to figure out Millennials, this new generation of Plurals or Generation Z has been growing up behind the scenes.

According to a June 2015 article posted by, one of the most important things to note about this new segment of people is that they’re quite different than Millennials. They have their own set of expectations when it comes to communicating and interacting. They have grown up with mobile phones as their primary phone and source of information and communication.

In addition, Plurals are very entrepreneurial and resourceful, which will need to be taken into account when devising strategies and approaches to interact, communicate and educate them.

More specifically, when it comes to communicating and technology:

  • They prefer social networks like Snapchat, Secret, and Whisper, and a quarter of 13- to 17-year-olds have left Facebook, states the article.
  • They’re immersed in social media, relying on it not only for mere socializing, but also for school. In fact, 52% use social media for research assignments. One-third, meanwhile, use it to work with classmates and watch lessons online, according to the research from Sparks & Honey.

When it comes to the educational experiences of this group, they were raised in an environment that emphasized mainstreaming and classroom diversity. That means, Plurals have grown to be collaborative team players who view everyone as being equal.

Plurals are also accustomed to seeking education and knowledge online, whether that be through watching lessons online, working on a project with classmates online, taking a test or reading a book.

And there appears to be something of a technology overload among Plurals, or as one article noted – they’re screen addicts with the attention span of a gnat. They’re accustomed to multi-tasking across about five screens (as opposed to the two screens used by Milliennials.) This includes mobile phones, laptops, desktop computers, and portable handheld music devices.

To this, a 2015 Fast Company article adds that Plurals have grown up in a world where their options are limitless, but their time is not. As a result, they’ve learned to quickly sort through enormous amounts of information. And when they’re online, they rely heavily on trending pages within apps to collect the most popular content.

Bottom line – this generation has always known how to pinch, zoom and swipe. They have come of age with hi-def, surround-sound, 3D and 4D. All of which will require institutions adapting to engage and educate them in new and different ways.

What’s Next – Be Prepared
The Plural or Generation Z influence is growing. By 2020, they’ll account for 40% of all consumers, according to the 2015 article in Fast Company. Yet even as the generation’s influence increases, we are still scrambling to learn more about them and what they want.

But make no mistake, understanding them will be critical in the next decade and beyond.

This fact was made particularly clear at the recent Kurogo Conference in California, when generational expert Morley Winograd, a USC Fellow and author, gave a presentation about the characteristics of the Millennials and Plurals.

With regard to Plurals, Winograd noted that education and academia will have to adapt to their learning styles because Plurals want to create their own experience when they go to college. They want their college journey to be unique.

“So here’s what colleges will have to do,” said Winograd. “Faculty aren’t going to lecture. They’re going to have to create environments in which students can learn in groups and in teams. Tests are not likely to be in text form. They’re likely to be visual… Plurals will end up being known as the ones who bought us virtual reality.”

Winograd concluded by urging leaders in all industries to get ready to adapt, because the longer you wait, the riskier it becomes.

Plurals – A Cliff Notes Guide
While there’s still no definitive guide about this upcoming generation, the few takeaways available now are worth noting. Plurals are fully immersed in technology and social media, using it for both socializing and learning. They are visual learners, often with short attention spans. And they have come to expect an experience, whether with technology, social media or education, that is uniquely their own.

When it comes time for this mobile-born, extremely tech-savvy generation to engage with colleges and universities, it is critical that schools provide experiences to meet these demands. Schools need to think critically about their mobile strategy and engage these students with highly visual, and highly personal mobile experiences, starting with the school’s campus app.


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