Generation Z is officially college-bound, and they could soon become the generation with the most college graduates. By 2020, this highly-educated cohort will make up 40% of American consumers. So, starting with education and housing, their influence is changing the world as we know it. And property managers may have to overcome some challenges to support them.   

Born between the mid-90s and early 2000s, Gen Z doesn’t remember a life without widespread WiFi, cell phones, and social media. With easy access to Google searches and YouTube videos, they’re accustomed to having infinite knowledge at their fingertips. They know what’s going on in the world, and they strive to make a difference in it. 

So how does all this reflect on their expectations for student housing? Let’s find out. 

Going back to basics, with more convenience

Overall, Gen Z is more frugal than previous generations. They’ve watched their families go through the 2008 recession and they’ve seen the student debt burden weighing on the shoulders of their Millennial predecessors. So luxury housing amenities like movie theaters, rooftop swimming pools, and spacious, showy rooms don’t impress them. 

Gen Z wants to take college back to the basics — with simple, yet functional spaces for living, studying, and collaboration. That means every area should have a purpose (or multiple purposes) and make the most of available space. Designing flexible common rooms with optional partitions, for example, allows students to move from private study to large group activities in the same room. Shared spaces (kitchens, dining rooms, lounge areas, etc.), whether indoor or outdoor, are a must, too, since Gen Z students like to stay connected with their peers.     

Many Gen Zers, especially if they’re attending college in urban areas, are also looking for convenience that caters to their transportation methods and healthy lifestyles. They prefer to have easy access to grocery stores, fitness centers, outdoor sports and exercise areas, dog parks, and secure bike storage. Designated dropoff and pickup spots for ridesharing and food delivery are a welcome addition, too. 

Creating a campus with a cause

The latest generation of college students is a cause-conscious one. They care about what’s going on in the campus community and the world, and they want to be responsible citizens. Their housing properties can help them achieve this. 

Whether it’s a rally, meeting, fundraiser, or volunteer opportunity, Gen Z wants to be in the know about activities in which they can get involved. Property managers can support this by posting calendars, preferably through digital displays or mobile apps, to let residents know what’s happening on campus and beyond. They can also include on-site meeting rooms — or versatile spaces that transform into meeting rooms — to provide a welcoming place for community gatherings. 

And when it comes to sustainability, Gen Zers want to see things like recycling programs, compost bins, and urban gardening. They’re also looking for green design practices. In fact, 76% say they’re concerned about negative impacts on the environment. So property owners should lower the building’s energy consumption with solar power, smart windows, high-efficiency appliances, LED lighting, and low flow showers and toilets.

Turning on the technology 

Technology is what fuels Gen Z. It gives them the convenience and instant gratification they crave. So a reliable WiFi will be the backbone of their educational and social success. It should offer a high-speed connection capable of powering multiple devices per resident.

The devices Gen Z will be turning to most are their cell phones. This means they expect mobile-friendly services from their living environment, like cloud-printing and the ability to submit maintenance requests or payments through an app. 

Since they’ve also grown up in the age of Amazon Alexa and Google Home, they embrace voice-activated technology and smart home devices, too. Gen Z loves having the opportunity to control their homes remotely, whether it be turning on lights and appliances, adjusting the room temperature, or selecting a music playlist, with just a few words. 

Securing the area

For many, home is a sanctuary. And even though student housing is temporary, it shouldn’t lack a strong feeling of security. Incoming freshmen will likely be living on their own for the first time, and their parents won’t want them staying in a place that’s vulnerable to unauthorized visitors and theft.

Security has evolved over the years, and Gen Z’s idea of safety reflects that advancement. Surveillance cameras, motion-activated lights, and alarm systems are still the foundation of a safe home. But new students aren’t going to be satisfied with traditional keys to get into buildings and rooms, because if they forget those keys, they’ll be stranded outside. It also leaves doors vulnerable to lock-picking and tampering. 

To prevent this, students are partial to electronic locks activated with key fobs, Bluetooth (via a smartphone), passcodes, or even their fingerprints. Some of these devices even allow students to remotely grant access to visitors. They also keep property managers informed about who is passing through the building. 

In the era of e-commerce, incoming students will be thinking about package security, too. Younger generations expect to see that the building has a system in place for preventing package theft, but they’d rather avoid the time-consuming mailroom pickup process. A simple solution to this is installing smart package lockers. 

Package lockers not only protect packages from theft, but they also make it easier for students to pick them up when it’s most convenient. And they incorporate the technology Gen Z has come to anticipate — they’ll receive mobile notifications when couriers drop off their packages, and they’ll be able to access those packages using only their smartphones. Check out how the University of Nevada Las Vegas transformed the student living experience using smart lockers. 


To learn more about securing packages in student housing, check out Smiota’s smart package lockers.