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Little Giants: The Big World of Gen Alpha

Josie Ahqluist, Little Giants: The Big World of Gen Alpha

Step aside Gen Z, because Generation Alpha is here and making its identity known. orn between 2010 and 2025, Alpha’s are highly digitally-integrated and are set to become the most educated generation. 

In this episode, I’ll explore the unique perspectives of this new generation. Through insightful conversations with researchers, parents, and even Gen Alpha themselves, we’ll dig into their evolving view of higher education. think about this cohort. 

For insight on Gen Alpha, I brought in a diverse group of guests to speak to what’s ahead. You’ll hear from AJ Lopez, Social Media & Media Relations Manager at Texas Woman’s University (and parent of two Gen Alphas); Dr. Meghan Grace, researcher, consultant, and generational expert; Dr. Amber Williams, Vice Provost for Student Success at the University of Tennessee – Knoxville (also a parent of a Gen Alpha); and Ava Christopher, a Gen Alpha herself (and the cousin of my marketing manager, Kati Hartwig). 

As we gear up for this new generation of diverse, intelligent, and independent people, it’s clear that higher ed is going to have to evolve to fit their needs. So, where do we begin? 

Josie and the Podcast is a production of Dr. Josie Ahlquist and is produced by University FM. The show is also sponsored by Element451.

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Josie and the Podcast is produced in partnership with University FM, a podcast agency dedicated to higher education. University FM works with leading colleges and universities to tell stories on campus that build branding, drive engagement, and connect communities. Reach out to team@university.fm to connect on podcast strategy, production, and growth. We look forward to talking with you!

Element451 is a proud sponsor of Josie and the Podcast. Element451 is an AI-powered, all-in-one student engagement platform, helping institutions create meaningful, personalized, and engaging interactions with students. Our platform harnesses the power of Artificial Intelligence to seamlessly tailor content for each individual, bridging the gap between broad outreach and personal touchpoints. Fueled by intelligent automation and deep data insights, teams are free to focus on what matters most — building real connections with students. Learn more at Element451.com. 

Notes from this Episode:

Transcript

[00:00:00] Josie: Josie and the Podcast is produced by the amazing team at University FM. They are the higher ed podcast agency, helping communicators build community, share research, and inspire discussion with stories that resonate.

Do you have a podcast idea and are stuck on how to put it out into the world? Well, they can help you get going in the right direction with strategy, production, and promotion. Start podcasting with ease. You can reach them for advice at university.fm. That link is also in the show notes.

Hello, and welcome to Josie and the Podcast. I’m Josie, and I’m happy to have you here with me today.

What does it mean to lead in the digital space with heart and humanity? On this podcast, I spend time answering this question with some heart, with lots of soul, and plenty of substance. My goal is to share conversations that encourage you, empower you, and even entertain you to rethink digital strategy for yourself and the organizations you support.

Well, goodness gracious, this spring is a whirlwind, as we are sliding very soon into April and the madness of May, for those in quarter systems, the, the Jubilee of June. That’s the best I can do with word assimilations. But by the time this comes out, I will have visited two different conferences, two different cities, plenties of airplanes and airports, and a lot of Ubers in between. But all a while, quite appreciative of the hustle and bustle. By the time this episode comes out, I will have attended NASPA. I do an annual meetup right before the opening. I always do sessions. I can’t help myself. But this one that I did with Tim Alexander, resident director at Chapman University, who you actually heard from a few episodes back, our session, it was called Is Student Affairs Ready for Influencer Marketing? And remember, I have an episode about influencer marketing, if you want to dig even deeper.

I am also heading to ACPA’s 100th celebration in Chicago. I actually fly out in the morning after I record this. I hear there is water that is green, and not just because I am visiting there. April is also going to be full of speaking, but I will not physically leave my house to do it, which is pretty cool. The NASPA virtual conference is on April 2nd, and I’m the kickoff keynote. And then, the end of the month, April 25th, I am the AMA virtual conference speaker. And then, in between there, I am escaping to a retreat in Ojai that has nothing to do with higher ed. It’s my birthday gift to myself. We’re going to do all this woo-woo stuff and, like, women’s empowerment and journaling and astrology. And I cannot wait.

And then, in June, I’m headed to UNLV. I would not be surprised if I will be traveling somewhere else in May. But I am grateful for every single step of it.

By the time this episode comes out, it will be the very last week of the Digital Community Cohort. I have just absolutely loved the group this year. And what was so also darn special going to NASPA is I ran into a number of alumni of the program over the years, and so, of course, selfies and squealing was had, to see how they have used the materials to create real impact and more quality content. It just makes me so, so very happy.

I mentioned earlier about birthdays. And y’all will be the, well, I think, maybe one of the first places to hear this announcement. So, in August, we kicked off the Student Social Media Academy. We are over 250 students from around the globe. It is a self-paced, on-the-go online course that you can gift to your students to learn social media strategies, specifically, for higher ed.

And for my birthday, we are offering a limited birthday discount. We are bringing it down from $150 to the launching price, which we offered last August and September of $99. And so, keep your eyes out for the discount code and how to take advantage of that. You could even grab this discount for the students that you’re going to hire in the fall because you get access for a full year. So, keep that on your radar.

And talking about thinking about the future and your students is all about the episode today, Generation Alpha. You may be thinking, “Why the heck, Josie, are we already talking about?” Or, “What is this generation? I’ve never heard of this. I’m still getting used to all these other generations.” Well, ready or not. But this is where we can just simmer on this. This is, kind of, nice that this is, like, three, four days before Thanksgiving that you’re just, kind of, bringing ingredients together. You might be pre-prepping. Listen, I don’t know. I don’t make Thanksgiving meals or major meal events, but that’s the closest I got.

But that’s what today’s episode is going to be about, is the youths that are coming. There are, I think, important things that we can pay attention to now. And then, as we see technology and the opportunities and challenges of higher ed that are going to happen in the next 5, 10 years, we can start to piece those things together.

Now, to situate this in I am also not a generational researcher, I am going to introduce you to one of those. But my work has always had strong connections and correlation to demographics and technology, along with access and a little bit on the age component.

My keynote, Engaging the Digital Generation, is one of my most popular requests that I provide to conferences and campuses, to be able to just provide a framework, at least to see where things fit or where they don’t, because we can find some macro trends that different generations may use tech differently at the same time of when they first gained access to a tool to explore it and gain competency and skill versus culture, especially social media has such an influence on culture, whether if that’s local, regional, national, or global. But what I would also say in context right away is what generation and research and frameworks, what they do and what they don’t give us.

Because, like, a lot of frameworks out there, they do not account for a holistic and only definition. So, for example, it does not come into play of socioeconomic status, geography, if you’re based in the U.S., versus China versus Australia. And not all kids or adults are a monolith. But it allows us, at least, a point at which we can react to, and again, a framework for us to at least chat about.

So, let’s quickly break down the list of generations. And there are some differences, like, different generational researchers use a different title or age. So, I’m just going to give you one that’s out there, and we’re going to go with it. Okay, so, our elders, our silent generation, born before 1945, they lived through the Great Depression, World War II, they, because of those things, brought about this next generation of the Baby Boomers. Born between 1946 and ‘64, they were very optimistic. It was a time of social change, of dreams, of rocking the boat, of making your mark on this world.

And then, they had kids that were Gen X between 1965 and 1980 who were born around that time. A phrase that gets thrown around a lot is the idea of them being latchkey kids who were taught to be independent, to be resourceful. At the same time, this generation may have been more skeptic, sarcastic, but also a DIY. During this period of time, as Gen X grew up, grunge music was very popular, but also this essence of figuring it out on their own.

And then, Millennials. We’ve heard a lot about Millennials. this is, I hope it won’t burst your bubble, but these are actually not your traditional age student now. They’re actually more likely your colleagues, maybe even your supervisor or, we are seeing a new millennial generation take on VP, provost, and presidential roles. They were born around 1981, including yours truly, up to 1996.

As we aged, even in the youngest years, every year, a new technology would enter maybe our classrooms, our homes, this was the internet boom. And so, we got to explore ways of self-expression, at the same time, social causes, and this idea of having purpose in the work that you did. Later on, we may have created such trends as avocado toast.

And then, we’ve got Gen Z, born roughly between ‘97 and 2012. I’m not always a fan of the phrase, “digital natives,” but there is a good chance, by the time they were conscious and active in the world, they possibly had access to digital something. And so, they possibly didn’t know any different of doing something without technology. And so, because of that, they may have become more fluent than previous generations with language and usage of the internet, but even today, being able to jump onto TikTok trends and… some might say side hustles.

And so, Gen Alpha, the new kids on the block, which we’re going to be digging into, they are going to be born anywhere around 2010 to still in the womb and or petri dish, and we’re going to dive more into them. And I couldn’t help myself on LinkedIn. I asked, what’s the first thing that comes to mind when I say Gen Alpha? And I’ll just throw out some comments that I got. Smart, intimidating, sassy. Did I mention smart? Gen Z is not even a warmup, be ready or be gone. Another one, connected smart. I think of them having a ton of agency in their lives, their parents supporting and encouraging that, treating parenting almost like a partnership.

Another comment, shameless, will be heard, unapologetic, wants to save the earth, and doesn’t care what other people think, all in the good ways. I could learn from that. Aren’t interested in restrictive labels, traditions, and societal expectations. We, I’m assuming adults, stress them out, they’re torn between taking on the world and deciding to stay home and video game.

Couple more. Can’t believe we’re already on alpha already. Are we just getting past Gen Z? I feel it. And then, finally, a start of something new. And we’re going to get back to that concept of both a start and new. And like previous episodes this year, I have been calling out to my community to not just get responses on LinkedIn, but to actually gather a little bit more meaty feedback and responses from some colleagues that I think would be wonderful for you to learn from, because I’m getting learnt about this generation with you. And so, you’re going to hear from AJ Lopez. He’s a manager of social media and media relations at Texas Woman’s University, Dr. Meghan Grace, a close friend and colleague, who also is a researcher, consultant, and generational expert. Dr. Amber Williams. She’s the vice provost of student success at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. And finally, in such a treat, Ava Christopher, a Gen Alpha herself, and also the cousin of my marketing manager, Kati Hartwig.

So, you’ll hear both of them chatting away about life as a Gen Alpha. Let’s first hear from Meghan, a generational researcher, scholar, and speaker who had this to say.

[00:14:06] Meghan: So, my unique experience with Gen Alpha is that I’m a generational expert, and a lot of people are really starting to pay attention to this generation. I, kind of, take caution with that because they’re so young. And when we’re looking at generational research, we’re really waiting until they’ve developed their own identity and their perspective on the world.

And so, with many of them only being in middle school, there’s a lot that’s being focused on of who they’re going to become. And I’d actually encourage people to give them a little bit of time to grow up and develop their worldview and start to understand who they are and how that’s going to shape their cultural identity as a cohort and a generation in the way that they’re going to navigate society.

[00:14:45] Josie: So, let’s get to know this new and exciting generation. Ologie, who is a marketing and branding agency for higher ed, put out a really cool download about this generation and situated it so nicely. So, if you are a visual person, go and grab that download. Again, we’re talking born anywhere 2010. And I’m recording this in 2024. They are around 13 right now and younger. So, we got teens, preteens, and whatever they’re calling anyone under 10.

And from the research that’s being out there, we’re seeing social media as a way of life, but also the tools built into technology, like AI — for example, Alexa and Siri. When I’m home with my nieces, Maddie and Roxy, they have Alexas in their room. And I will hear, for example, Maddie yelling out, “Alexa, da da da da da, or da da da da da,” or if they get it wrong, my nephew was getting so frustrated with Alexa that it wasn’t hearing him correctly. So, that’s both adorable and, I don’t know, terrifying.

We also see, and maybe this might be the older side of Gen Alpha, being content creators on TikTok and/or playing those roles. So, my niece, Maddie, she wants my sister-in-law to send me a video, the whole family. And she’s either going to be doing gymnastics and/or saying, “Hey, guys, today, we’re going to be talking about da, da, da, da.” So, she’s playing YouTube. She is pretending she’s on TikTok. We’ll get back to that in a minute.

We’ll also talk a little bit more about how racially diverse this generation is growing up in multiracial and non-traditional households. Also, we are all affected by COVID-19. But imagine yourself for a moment going through such significant developmental times even before middle school, maybe even into your infancy. And we’re still going to find out what that disruption has impacted and how they turn out.

They say, in the U.S., a Gen Alpha baby is born every 9 seconds. That’s a lot of diapers. And by 2025, there will be 2 billion of them, making up the largest generation in history. This also is another positive hope for higher ed. They are on track to become the most educated generation history, with 50% expected to earn a university degree. Sidebar, we have to earn their respect to come to our campuses, not just expect them to come.

Now, as we look at their parents, their families, who might be, they might be Gen X, more likely, millennials, born in the ‘80s and ‘90s, who again, they were growing up experiencing digital and being more savvy with where we put our money. So, they are also teaching, like they shared earlier, we’re raising children with strong values, with a partnership. And Gen Alpha have gone through tough times, again, through COVID, that brought in stress. There may have been job loss. There may have been familial loss. But the rewards of, maybe, family were home more than typical. So, some bonding and even increased creativity.

That said, there were some learning gaps. And this next, you know, phase, we know our K-12 colleagues, and I wouldn’t be surprised if you are especially serving first year or transfers, we’re trying to fill the gaps, too, for Gen Z.

This next stat, I felt a kinship with Gen Alpha, is they said 65% will work in jobs that don’t exist yet. I get asked often, “Josie, what job would take you back to a campus?” I always say, “I don’t know, but I don’t think it exists yet, and/or the president that I would work for.”

But how do we prepare future students and current students for jobs that don’t exist? This is happening now. How do we make things super transferable and also be able to meet their expectations for college and for our curriculum?

And now to get to the root, I mean, there’s naming conventions. People can argue a whole bunch about, like, who called it. But it sounds like some social analysts at a firm called McCrindle coined this term. And Mark McCrindle, the principal there, and co-author, Ashley Fell, they put out a piece, Generation Alpha: Understanding Our Children and Helping Them Thrive. They said, in keeping with the scientific nomenclature of using Greek alphabet in lieu of the Latin and having worked our way through generations X, Y, Z, I settled on the next cohort being Generation Alpha, not a return to the old, but the start of something new.

We can be excited about the start and newness, that it isn’t returning to an old. Let’s hear from Amber and her first-hand experience with Gen Alpha.

[00:20:33] Amber: I’m Amber Williams, the vice provost for student success at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. And I feel like I have a very unique experience with Gen Alpha because I’m raising them right now. I typically will say in presentations, if you don’t like what’s happening with Gen Alpha in the future, you can blame me and others like me who are raising Gen Alpha.

But I would say that, from that first-hand experience, watching my children grow, learn, and engage in a really complex society has given me some unique experiences or the unique opportunity to see how Gen Alpha is perceiving our world.

[00:21:11] Josie: AJ and his experience is going to be through the lens of his two young boys.

[00:21:16] AJ: There are a lot of unique experiences with Generation Alpha. I have two amazing and powerful kids, both boys at the ages of 7 and 8. So, to say I have a primary source in this generation would be an understatement. People talk about Generation Alpha being very independent and wanting to do more for society. And even at this young age, they get it. Having a conversation the other day with my youngest, he was shocked when he found that the teachers don’t get paid very much. His elementary school has excellent teachers, and he’s very fond of his. So, he could not understand why, as a society, we don’t take better care of them. Even when I was his age, these things never popped in my mind. I was oblivious to the world, but he, at seven years old, wants to know so much about the world and how to help it.

As a family, they are involved in a lot of decisions, like where to go for dinner, chores, and even planning family trips. They’re learning so much at a young age, they feel like they’re already included in society.

[00:22:09] Josie: And Meghan will share her take on their peer personality.

[00:22:14] Meghan: When it comes to the defining characteristics of Gen Alpha, I think we’re still too early in their developmental stages to put a definitive stamp on what we think their peer personality and cohort culture is going to look like.

Right now, so many of them are just beginning to develop their own identities and understanding their sense of self. And so, before they can even start to think about shared characteristics and shared identities as a group, there’s still a lot of personal development that needs to take place.

When we think about generations, though, there are some areas where we can start to look at what is going on in the world today that might shape their characteristics moving forward. So, we know that this is like a hyper-connected cohort when it comes to use of technology and navigating technology. It is really just deeply ingrained into their DNA, even more so than previous generations, and potentially even more than Gen Z.

Right now, what I would suggest for people trying to understand characteristics of Gen Alpha is actually thinking about the people that are raising them and, kind of, the things that are going on in the world that might be impacting this young generation as they’re starting to think about the world around them and thinking about the world that’s much larger than just their school or neighborhood or group of friends.

And so, think about who’s raising this generation and some of the cultural experiences and events that are going on throughout society that are going to influence how they will one day see the world and, in turn, the characteristics that they’re going to exhibit.

[00:22:14] Josie: Okay. Let’s dig in a little bit about how they’re showing up in digital spaces, layered in with how diverse they are. So, YouTube stands out as a top platform for this generation. Again, I’ve seen my own family, whether we like it or not. Sometimes, a little, you know, like, video cartoon action, many times that happens on YouTube or maybe Netflix, but video has been part of their upbringing, which may lead to video-based platforms like Instagram and TikTok.

A question for the crowd. If you believe that an under-13-year-old should or 12-year-old should have a phone or not, any arguments for both? At least, by the numbers, 17% of U.S. children under the age of 12 use a smartphone at least once a month. And again, heavy use of YouTube. With a little bit of that research piled on, I’ve got to ask more questions of our parents of Gen Alpha kids and their characteristics. So, let’s talk to AJ about those defining characteristics.

[00:24:52] AJ: From my perspective, some of the defining characteristics I see of Generation Alpha, they’re set apart from previous generations, because, personally, my experience with them starts with sarcasm.

These kids are sarcastic and funny. They are very independent. And they live in their own skin. There are still the complexities of growing up as a teenager, but they are more open about who they are as a person. They don’t take no as an answer, but want to understand why. They want to do things that have meaning.

These kids are very democratic in the sense that they want to come to a consensus on every decision and make sure it’s the best for their group, then try and include everyone in their idea, and probably one of the best generations I’ve seen at looking out for one another. As a person, they are independent, but as a group they are a powerful collective. If they want to get something done, the only thing that may lack are resources. They’ll still figure out a way. Gen Alpha is not scared to be themselves, and they won’t apologize for it.

[00:25:49] Josie: Amber also has a little bit to say about this.

[00:25:54] Amber: You know, Gen Alpha is always going to be one step ahead of us. They are, probably, the most educated generation. But they’re educated from different ways, not just the traditional in the classroom education, but they’re also learning from technology. Think about it. Many of their books are being read by YouTube. If you think about through COVID, for example, Dolly Parton was reading nighttime books to them, and they’re used to seeking information through technology.

But the other thing I would say about them and technology, just to go specifically down that track, is that they’re using technology differently in the schools right now. So, K-through-12 learning is really about adaptive learning education, meaning that K-through-12 understands that each student is learning concepts at a different rate. And they’ve created processes through technology that allow each student to move at their own level and at their own rate. And so, students are used to that. They’re used to using technology to answer questions, to have problems, to be really engaged in the work very differently than my generation or others have.

The other thing about this generation is they really value open and honest communication. I mean, they are a generation where we’ve talked about the importance of wellbeing and mental health and that there’s no stigma to thinking about what makes you happy, what brings you joy, and sharing that with others, and also sharing with others the things that you’re fearful about or that you’re sad about. And so, they’re going to really value open and honest communication.

And I think that’s going to lead them to want to have many choices. Because, if they’re going to be able to articulate how they feel, then they’re also going to probably articulate clearly the choices that they want. And I see that in my children right now, where, you know, I was raised, whatever food was brought to the table is what you eat; whereas, my children have choices. Do you want corn or do you want peas?

And that same thing is playing out in their extracurricular activities. For example, you know, we are taking our children to certain AAU teams versus another AAU team, or we’re engaging our children in certain dance versus cheer. There’s lots of choices in extracurricular activities that they have. There’s lots of choices that they’re having at their schools. And they’re going to value that or really come to expect that from their future education.

So, I think it’s important that we always start where students are at and that we understand the journey that they expect of us and understand, what are their expectations? When I think about Gen Alpha, realizing that they’ve been primarily raised by millennials, and in some cases Gen X like me, they’re going to be sensitive to work-life balance because they’re going to see their parents or family members or supporters really trying to manage work-life balance. They’re going to be committed to lots of social causes. And I think of that very broadly. I think of that, whether it comes to education, comes to poverty, whether it’s local, whether it’s national, whether it’s at the global landscape. They’re really going to be thinking about social policies and, and causes, and they’re going to want to feel connection to whatever they’re doing. They’re going to want to have purpose in whatever they’re doing because of the experiences that they’ve grown up with.

So, I think they’re going to build on some of the values and the perspectives of millennials. It’s going to be a start, but think of that at its highest level, where it isn’t just those perspectives and values and finding purpose, but really adding in digital integration into that. So, how do you find purpose while also valuing or utilizing the digital age while doing that? And also, just really understanding that they want a personalized journey. It goes back to that conversation I had earlier where students are going to want choice and, really, higher ed stepping forward and allowing students to find choice and find purpose and really customize the experience is going to build trust and authenticity with Gen Alpha.

[00:30:04] Josie: Have y’all heard about the Engage Summit, hosted by Element451 and happening in Raleigh this summer, June 25th and 26th? Sessions will be focused on cutting-edge AI applications that are reshaping student outreach, enhancing staff productivity, and offering deep insights into ROI.

Now, this is not your typical conference. It’s a strategic summit, where you’ll learn from the best about leveraging AI and digital strategies in higher ed marketing. There’ll be two days full with hands-on sessions, real success stories, and getting to network with the top minds in the field. You’re going to leave with practical, transformative takeaways, as you learn how AI fosters a more personalized, effective approach from recruitment to student success.

Early bird tickets are just $150. And with the code, JOSIE50, you get an exclusive discount, bringing the price down only $99. But hurry, this offer ends March 31st. Visit engage.element451.com to learn more and register today.

And I shared earlier about being so drawn to video. But there’s also a little slice of that in some being quite interested in skin care. An article in Glamour, called Kids’ Obsession with Drunk Elephant, I actually just was at a Sephora a few hours ago, and I did see some, some littles in this establishment, with their moms, or with their friends. It reminded me of when I would go, maybe to, like, was it called, like, 5, 7, 9, or The Buckle? It looked quite adorable, actually. But so, this article talks about we already had an interest with millennials and Gen Z being interested in skincare. Skincare, especially during the pandemic, there was a significant increase in purchases of skincare.

And so, by proxy, by looking around, if you’re on your phone, your kids probably want to be on your phone. If you’re doing all this skincare stuff, it’s not always a correlation, but what gets a little sticky here is Drunk Elephant, and I have tried this and it just wasn’t for me, but it is very pricey. And the products are all bright colors. And so, they’re almost attracting a younger audience to them. But the other issue is that they are also, they have materials in these products that might not be safe or necessary for very young skin. Anyone that might have a child, a teen, a preteen, around this age might know the Christmas list requests for, maybe, skincare or Drunk Elephant. The founder says that her products are safe, but many pediatricians and dermatologists are disagreeing.

Now, will the Drunk Elephant trend continue? Probably, not like anything, they’re going to outgrow it. But it’s just an interesting behavior, as you look at just even a very small segment of the population of Gen Alpha. What might be next? And what’s to come, as they become a little older Gen Alphas?

The reason why I give you some backup to this and skincare smoothies is our interview with Ava, who is amazing and is a Gen Alpha. She is 11, who sat down with her second cousin, my marketing manager, Kati Hartwig. And they chatted about social media, Drunk Elephant, and college. So, let’s give her and Kati’s conversation a listen.

[00:34:13] Kati: Okay, so let’s start with technology, okay?

[00:34:17] Ava: Okay.

[00:34:17] Kati: So, what’s your favorite app and why?

[00:34:21] Ava: TikTok, because I like to just scroll and watch all the videos.

[00:34:24] Kati: Do you have any favorite creators that you follow?

[00:34:28] Ava: Yes.

[00:34:29] Kati: Who? Who are your favorite creators?

[00:34:31] Ava: James Charles!

[00:34:34] Kati: Oh, my gosh. What does being yourself mean to you?

[00:34:40] Ava: Being myself means, like, being weird, because, like, I’m weird. I’m just weird, like that. Like, we do weird stuff. Like, we act crazy and make funny TikToks. So fun.

[00:34:54] Kati: Do all of your friends have multiple TikToks? Like, is that a thing to have more than one?

[00:34:59] Ava: Yes, it is.

[00:35:00] Kati: Why do you guys have more than one TikTok account? Explain this to me.

[00:35:04] Ava: Well, usually, for girls, it’s like Get Ready With Me, and then there’s, like, a main account. And then they have, like, Get Ready With Me, and, like, dancing accounts, and all kind of stuff. Like, I have, like, eight accounts.

[00:35:16] Kati: I know you do. And on those accounts, do you have different followers, or are they all the same people?

[00:35:24] Ava: It depends on, like, the content. Like, usually, for Get Ready With Mes, it’s just, like, my friends. But if I, like, do, like, POVs and stuff, it’s usually different people.

[00:35:33] Kati: What about other social platforms? Like, do you do that with Instagram and stuff, too, or do you just have one Instagram?

[00:35:40] Ava: I have… well, I had another Instagram because I didn’t have the Instagram app yet. But then I made my mom get me the Instagram app, so now I only have one Instagram account. I usually post on that, like, maybe, I don’t know, two days a week.

[00:35:57] Kati: What about Facebook?

[00:35:58] Ava: I’m on Facebook just to see, like, who’s on Facebook, but a couple kids are.

[00:36:04] Kati: Really?

[00:36:05] Ava: I don’t post anything on Facebook, though. I deleted Facebook.

[00:36:09] Kati: What about other platforms, let’s see, like, Twitter? Are you guys ever on Twitter?

[00:36:14] Ava: No.

[00:36:15] Kati: How about Threads?

[00:36:17] Ava: What’s Threads?

[00:36:21] Kati: It’s the… it’s Instagram. Well, it’s Meta. So, like, Facebook and Instagram’s version of Twitter.

[00:36:28] Ava: No.

[00:36:30] Kati: Okay. So, you’re more, like, visual, then. You prefer the video and the photos.

[00:36:36] Ava: Yeah, but we’re all on Snapchat.

[00:36:39] Kati: Oh, right. I forgot about Snapchat. Do you just, like, talk to each other on there? Like, do you follow people who aren’t your friends on Snapchat?

[00:36:47] Ava: No, usually people want to be my friends on Snapchat, but I usually decline it because I only accept the people who I know.

[00:36:54] Kati: Okay, so how about YouTube?

[00:36:56] Ava: YouTube?

[00:36:57] Kati: Yeah.

[00:36:58] Ava: I mean, sometimes I use YouTube just to, like, watch people and, like, watch YouTubers and stuff. And sometimes, I use it, like, not all the time, though, I usually look up stuff on YouTube, how to… like, I see, like, videos on TikTok and they say before videos on YouTube, if I’m, like, really interested in, I’ll go.

[00:37:20] Kati: What are your thoughts on, like, online safety and privacy?

[00:37:25] Ava: I don’t want… like, I just told you about Snapchat. I don’t want, like, random people being my friend. And I usually put my TikTok accounts on private, usually, because I don’t want, like, anyone weird. But, like, yeah, I think about it. And I don’t text anyone who I don’t know.

[00:37:43] Kati: I mean, that’s better than, when I was a kid, like, we didn’t know about any of that. So, like, we would go into, like, chat rooms and, like, talk to these random people. You’re what, 13? 12?

[00:37:58] Ava: I’m 11!

[00:37:59] Kati: Oh, my god, you’re 11, yes.

[00:38:01] Ava: You were there for my birthday!

[00:38:05] Kati: Okay, sorry, sorry. You’re 11. You just act older than you are. I think that’s why I’m confused. Have you thought at all about college?

[00:38:14] Ava: I mean, we have, like, this class in school. It’s, like, college and, like, career stuff, but I don’t want to go to college.

[00:38:23] Kati: You don’t?

[00:38:24] Ava: If I did go to college, it would be on, like, online college, because, like, college fees are really expensive, like, tuition and stuff. And I don’t have that much money. I’m, I’m pretty broke.

[00:38:37] Kati: No, you’re 11. Of course, you’re broke.

[00:38:40] Ava: I have, like, $22. That’s all I have right now. I spend it all at Target.

[00:38:45] Kati: Of course. So, then wait, do they teach you in school, like, about how much college costs?

[00:38:51] Ava: Yeah.

[00:38:54] Kati: Oh. So, would you say that, like, your generation thinks about, like, finances more than, probably, my generation did?

[00:39:01] Ava: No.

[00:39:02] Kati: Really? Because when I was 11, I was not thinking about the fact that college was going to be a lot of money and I don’t have that kind of money.

[00:39:09] Ava: We don’t really… we don’t usually talk about it. It’s usually just about, like, Snapchat and TikTok and, like, Sephora kids or whatever.

[00:39:18] Kati: What do you want to be when you grow up?

[00:39:21] Ava: I want to be an influencer.

[00:39:23] Kati: You want to be an influencer?

[00:39:25] Ava: Yeah, I want to get packages from Sephora.

[00:39:28] Kati: Like, what are some trends or, like, things that are in that maybe, like, people my age still do that are just not cool to do anymore?

[00:39:40] Ava: So, you went to, like, Claire’s and stuff for, like, makeup things or whatever.

[00:39:44] Kati: Yeah, I have.

[00:39:45] Ava: I’ve got some of those, too. And these 10-year-olds, 4-year-old girls are going to Sephora and also being, like, really rude to, like, all the workers, like, wanting a bunch of Drunk Elephant. But I use, like, I use Bubble, and I use some of Drunk Elephant’s things, but I usually don’t because I know it’s, like, really bad for you. Because I only have, like, the moisturizer and stuff. These Sephora 10-year-olds are just being really mean and, like, being really mean to the workers and stuff and just, like, getting all the Drunk Elephant and the Glow Recipe and the Sol de Janeiro and, basically, every single thing in Sephora.

[00:40:23] Kati: Okay, talk to me about skinny jeans.

[00:40:26] Ava: Skinny jeans?

[00:40:27] Kati: Yeah.

[00:40:27] Ava: What do you want to know?

[00:40:29] Kati: Are they in? Are they out?

[00:40:31] Ava: It’s usually, like, baggy jeans with holes now. I mean, some people wear skinny jeans but they’re, like, not in anymore.

[00:40:39] Kati: Is there anything else that you want people to know?

[00:40:42] Ava: Watch out for the Sephora 10-year-olds. But it’s true!

[00:40:49] Josie: Okay. Wow. This reminds me, I need to have way more students of all ages to tell us the real real and be the interpreters of culture, of internet, and all things skincare. Ava is a great example of speaking her mind, being empowered. And her comment about higher ed is so interesting to see someone so young already thinking about the implications of the costs of higher ed. I know the costs quite personally.

With that in mind, research tells us, so far, that this generation is leaning toward being on the lookout for real, authentic opportunities for them in order to make that choice about college. So, think about trading in the campus beauty shots with true examples of students who have overcome adversity and been able to flourish actual resources, like tutoring that they’re thinking about and majors that you can clearly speak to what the future pathways can be like, kind of, like Ava’s influencer dreams and ways to be engaged on campus.

But we can’t get too ahead of ourselves for predictions. Meghan, our generational researcher, will caution us to not try to predict too much.

[00:42:16] Meghan: Every time I’ve ever tried to do that, I’ve been proven wrong. But some things that I think we could certainly keep an eye on, just from an observational perspective, is that, with this generation, for Gen Alpha, we’re going to be looking at an even more connected, digitally integrated generation that is very comfortable with the evolving nature of technology. And if higher ed is not ready to evolve alongside and at the same pace, I think we’re going to see learners outpacing what higher education can offer.

The other thing I think that we’re going to be… what’s going to be really present is the impact of social emotional learning that they received in K-12 experiences and are experiencing in K-12 permeating into the way that they are expressing themselves and the way that they are managing their emotional and mental health.

So, I think that there is more articulation around feeling and more articulation around the emotional wellbeing of students through the K-12 system. And so, I think that that’s going to continue to be something that, as they’re learning this, as young people developing their habits, and they’re, kind of, their first introduction into managing their own lives, I think it’s going to be present and something that is going to continue to, I would say, challenge higher education in receiving students that are so emotionally and socially aware of how their own feelings might exist and operate in the student experience.

[00:43:36] Josie: I asked my featured guests, what are things Generation Alpha, and even their parents, will be looking for in higher ed institutions? How can we start preparing at least a little? And now, before we get into this, let’s hear from AJ, Meghan, and Amber.

[00:43:56] AJ: Some ways that higher ed can already be building trust and authenticity with Generation Alpha and their parents, I think this is where YouTube comes in. It’s definitely the social media Generation Alpha corresponds with the most. You ask most elementary kids what they want to be when they grow up, and they’ll tell you, “I want to be a YouTuber.” And it’s not even about the lavish lifestyle or the crazy stunts that they want to do. Kids have learned that there is a lot of good they can do as YouTubers, and they want to make the world a better place, and they see YouTube as an avenue.

As higher ed professionals, we need to be on these same platforms, using them the way Generation Alpha wants them to be used. We need to create engaging content that is fast-paced, but also, down to earth. We need to show why we are doing what we’re doing. For many academies, research is essential to making our lives infinitely better. We just have to change how we tell the story to this next generation that sees through the fluff and wants the facts straight and ready to go to work, asking, how can I help? We need to provide them with that space for them to flourish.

[00:44:57] Meghan: So, higher ed can be building trust and authenticity with Gen Alpha, really, by telling their story and what it means to attend a college or university. What is that experience and what is the reason for doing so? Many of them, again, the oldest are just in junior high. So, they might be thinking about college, but it’s still quite a few years down the road.

And so, I think where it comes into perspective is, certainly, impacting the families and providing accurate information, providing accessible information, and providing personal information about the college experience that is provided by institutions of higher education and why it’s a worthwhile investment of the time and the money that it takes.

I think, so many people, they associate college with, what is your career going to be? And I think it’s hard to ask a seventh grader or fifth grader, what are you going to be when you grow up, with full intention. And so, framing, potentially, some of the intangibles of the college experience, regardless of employability, of what people can be getting out of the college experience and how… and taking that message and taking it down to something that third, fifth, seventh graders can understand and have something to look forward to. It’s almost planting those seeds earlier, as we’re starting to think about how a continuum of education operates together.

And so, I do think, right now, it is providing the information to the parents and the family members that are raising this generation, but it’s also heavily dependent on depicting and, kind of, demystifying what it means to be a student of higher education.

[00:46:29] Amber: I think one of the biggest challenges we’re going to face in higher ed in attracting and retaining Gen Alpha is continuing to stay relevant.

And I think that’s staying relevant in a couple of ways. The first is from a technology perspective. If you think about it right now, our students, you know, for example, if they have a check, they’ll go to their banking institution, they can scan that check through their phone, it scans in, and it’s processed, and we never have to touch it again. Higher ed still requires, in many cases, physical transcripts to be sent to us. So, that’s just one example. Where, in a student’s day-to-day life, they have this sort of resource from a technology perspective, and then they come to higher ed and we’re a good 10 or 15 years behind.

So, I think their expectations of us are going to be to stay relevant and stay on par with the technology that’s happening all across the country and across the world. And it’s going to be something that is just an expectation of us, especially when, in higher ed, we frequently will talk about being innovative, but then there are certain things about our experience that are very traditional. So, I think we’re going to have to think about that from a technology perspective.

The second thing I would say is understanding that our students are using that adaptive learning in high school and K-through-12, just in general, they’re going to expect unique pedagogical approaches from us. And so, standing in front of the classroom and lecturing for an hour is not a unique pedagogical approach. There are some courses where that makes the most sense, but there’s going to be other courses where we’re going to need to approach that work very differently. And again, students coming from K-through-12 will not have had that lecture series as much. It’s going to be more coming from the adaptive learning and utilizing technology, along with the expertise that a teacher or a faculty member gives them. So, I think that that is going to be a challenge of ours.

And then the last thing I would say, and this is something we’ve dealt with a little bit with Gen Z, and I think we’ll continue to deal with with Gen Alpha, is that Gen Z and Gen Alpha are seeing the impact of federal aid or loans or students being in debt. And so, they’re asking the question of, is it worth it? What is the value that I will get from higher education? And they’re wondering if, you know, especially when they’re on social media and they might see someone who has made a lot of money in a short period of time by being an influencer, they may be wondering, “Does it make sense for me to pause for four years, go get this degree, and then go back to doing what I really love and finding purpose in, in what I’m doing?”

And so, I think one of our biggest challenges is containing that relevancy, but continuing to show the value of what a four-year degree can provide students. We all know that a four-year degree will help them over time seek more capital, more social capital, more financial capital. But in the short period, they may take a moment for four years that they’re taking a pause there from a financial perspective.

And so, I think it’s really helping our students understand the importance of doing that and also integrating real-world opportunities and deep-engagement opportunities that they can apply with their learning right now, today. It’s like, how can you be aspirational, at the same time, practical? And I think that’s something that we’re going to have to do with Gen Alpha.

[00:49:54] Josie: Just like we heard with Ava, it can be expensive. And these kids are really thinking about that. We want to have future students who are doing critical thinking about their life choices. And potentially, as Kati shared, this may not have been the same behaviors that all Millennials went into their college choices.

I also asked, how can we look to preparing high ed for Gen Alpha students? And so, listen to what AJ, Meghan, and Amber have to say.

[00:50:30] AJ: Some of the biggest challenges I think higher education faces in attracting and retaining Generation Alpha students are some of the similar ones we have with Millennials and Gen Z. The lack of resources a university has can only go so far. Those that know how to navigate through the resources will always have a better time in accomplishing their goals in higher ed. I think, until we can provide enough resources outside of the classroom, we will continue seeing problems with retention, with mental health, with food insecurity, with burnout from overworking. I graduated 10 years ago and it’s 100 times harder than it was before. A full-time student who takes 12 hours no longer can only concentrate on academics. I know students that have two to three jobs just to get by. Resources will continue to be the biggest hurdle for Generation Alpha, as well as other generations.

[00:51:16] Meghan: I think some of the biggest challenges iInstitutions of higher education face in attracting and retaining Gen Alpha students is, honestly, breaking through the noise. There’s so much information out there that’s not just related to higher education, but just so much content that an individual can look through and be a part of.

I think it’s a matter of being digitally adaptive to telling stories and showcasing the experience in ways that’s actually going to reach Gen Alpha. We know they’re heavy YouTube users. We know that is a place where they are getting their entertainment. And, I think, if we’re not ready to fully be able to be nimble with video media, that can create a challenge for those early storytelling moments.

So, I think that’s a big one, is being digitally adaptive and knowing that, in many cases, getting information to people, the first place that young people are getting their information is online. It might not be a website, but it could be a video that they’re seeing. And so, making sure that the stories that need to be told to showcase the experience are available or they are accessible and that they are things that are going to naturally become a part of the content consumption that Gen Alpha is currently engaging with.

[00:52:25] Amber: You know, I am inspired by Gen Alpha. I’m, I’m ready for them to get into the workplace. And the reason I say that is, you know, Gen Alpha and Gen Z have been critical of Millennials and above, I guess, and older generations that, while we have highlighted some of the challenges in our country and in our world, their feedback is that we haven’t done anything about it. We’ve talked about it, but we haven’t… there’s been little action.

And I think Gen Alpha, in particular, will walk the talk. And, you know, there was a particular… there were actually, specifically, David Bach wrote a book that’s called The Automatic Millionaire. And he talks about how Gen Alpha will want to work for companies that align with their values. I mean, think about that. I mean, literally, this generation will have the confidence to make decisions about their career based on their values, their purpose, and the goals that they seek.

And I don’t think they’re going to want to settle. I think that they’re going to want to dig in and say, “This is the type of company I want to work for.” And so, because of that, they’re likely going to really be attracted to or will want to embrace companies that value diverse places and spaces, that will really value their opinions, that will value the idea of being heard. This generation may also focus in on companies that really value technology and staying relevant.

But I guess what I would say is they’re going to have high expectations for us. They’re going to have really high expectations for us. And it is going to be our responsibility, if we want to attract and retain Gen Z in our workforce, we’re going to have to think about our values. We’re going to have to think about creating an environment where All of our employees feel really valued and heard and feel like they belong in our organizations.

And I think that we’re going to have to focus in on the holistic wellbeing of our employees, thinking about how they build community, thinking about their financial wellbeing, their mental and physical health. I mean, all these things are going to come to play with Gen Alpha. I mean, we’re already seeing it with Gen Z, and I think it’ll be 10 times more with the Gen Alpha.

So, it’s going to change our environment, our work environment, but I think, probably, for the best and something that I’m excited to see.

[00:54:45] Josie: And if you are looking for some trend-spotting inspiration, because goodness knows, as long as TikTok’s still around, if not, just go look on YouTube Shorts or Instagram Reels, that Faith Hitch, she is a mom to, I believe, a middle schooler. And she’s doing the Lord’s work. She is giving us pick-up line trend reports. I’ve only been in a pick-up line once to pick up my niece and nephew, and it was a stress fall. And you had, like, the line and, oh, my goodness.

So, tune in to Faith, as she is reacting in real time to what the youths and the Gen Alphas are wearing. For shame, I have to throw away all of my skinny jeans. But for some real tips, let’s hear from AJ and Meghan.

[00:55:36] AJ: Some of the resources I recommend for learning about Generation Alpha, or if you’re a Theo or Thea, go spend time with your Sobrinos. If you don’t have your own kids, then it’s a little tougher. I think the narrative around this generation is still being formed. I think we are just starting to scratch the surface of how Gen Alpha will grow up. But it’s coming sooner than we think, so we need to be ready.

I think, like, generations before them, they will continue to push our society forward. Sometimes, we see only the negative news, but generations after us are so invested in making society a better place. I only see us going forward, and I think Generation Alpha will continue to do good work that we’ve all tried to start. They’ll be the ones that can push it forward.

[00:56:14] Meghan: In terms of resources for learning more about Gen Alpha, I would suggest, like, first and foremost, get to know the young people in your lives. Like, there are such good case studies. Don’t try to place theories and assumptions on them, but get to know the, you know, the third, fifth, seventh graders that are in your life and understanding what the world is like for them today and realizing that it’s okay that their world is different.

Right now, there’s, I would say, very preliminary research that’s being done on this group. I would caution investing a ton of weight into the research that’s being done on this group right now, not to say that it’s invalid, but the results inevitably will change as this group grows up and as they develop their own worldview.

And so, if anything, I can always suggest to people that, regardless of generation, there’s always generational theory and models that can help people learn and understand generations, regardless of what cohort you’re talking about. So, I encourage checking out some of the resources that my research partner and I, Dr. Corey Seemiller and I, have produced around really understanding a framework of how a generation is shaped and how a generation comes to be and the things that we can look at to understand the characteristics and motivations of a generation. And then if we’re really trying to get ahead of the curve with Gen Alpha, applying that to this group, but ultimately, looking for the insights that are going to be helpful, but also accepting that they might change and unfold slightly differently as Gen Alpha moves into new phases of life, whether that’s in secondary education in high school and stepping into the post-secondary education in college and universities.

[00:57:45] Josie: Like Meghan said, it is still a bit early, and we will be very interested to see how Gen Alpha continues to take shape. But there is one thing common throughout both the interviews with all of the features and the research right now is about authenticity. Gen Alpha is looking to us, not just to talk the talk, they will smell it out, whether if it’s on social media or at an info day or campus tour. They need to see higher ed make real conscious decisions and actions and visualizations to be the stewards of their future.

And I feel so excited about that call. We do not need perfection. We do not need glossies. We do not need poses. We need real purposeful strategy. And my work has always been focused on fostering connections and how to tell your story in a authentic, sustainable way. And the way I’m helping higher ed do that, whether if it’s a one-time workshop or two days campus consulting, like UNLV, or a full year working together where you have got a partner along the way, where we’re looking at social, we’re looking at digital, and we are making you a roadmap that you can apply now and/or when we are ready for Gen Alpha, we will at least be further along in how we are implementing our strategies.

And it’s all research-based. I am a data nerd. So, we dig into your socials. We dig into your analytics to tell the real story about what’s happening. And then, again, we put you on a pathway to create marketing and comms presence that especially is on social, that’s going to connect with lots of different audiences. We create audience-specific strategies, whether if that’s for adult learners, who might be millennials, Gen X, or even boomers, or our traditional age students, the Gen Z, or even in the door soon, Gen Alpha.

I would love to show you how. If you’re interested in learning more about the work I do, just DM me at all the places or email me, josie@josieahlquist.com. I am currently open for clients toward the later part of the spring and into summer. My website, of course, josieahlquist.com.

So, this is probably not the last time we’re going to talk about Gen Alpha or what the future of higher ed and the communities that we serve. But I just love it now that we’re including other people’s insights into these shorty episodes.

If you’re ever interested in, maybe, giving me your insights based on a topic, let me know. But I just want to thank each of them, AJ, Meghan, Amber, and Ava. As we gear up for this new generation, we, whether we like it or not, we have got to evolve. And the rules of the game, if there even is one, is not in our control. But what we can control is the knowledge and being aware of the rich diversity and the variety of the type of students that are coming soon into our doors. And as Mark McCrindle said, Gen Alpha isn’t just a rerun of the past. You cannot copy and paste all your programs and ways of doing. There’s something entirely new. And it’s going to be up to us in education to be ready for them.

[01:01:37] Thank you for joining me for this shorty episode of Josie and the Podcast. Join the conversation online. You can find me on, pretty much everywhere, @josieahlquist. And the podcast is on X, Instagram, and Threads @JosieATPodcast. Remember, the show notes can be found at josieahlquist.com/podcast.

Make sure you are subscribed. You share it, you like it, you review it. That would be like your gift for my birthday. And I would be so appreciative.

If you want to learn more about me and my work, whether if it’s speaking, consulting on digital engagement and leadership, or my book, Digital Leadership in Higher Education, check me out at josieahlquist.com.

Thank you, again, to our podcast sponsors, University FM, who produce the show, and Element 451. I’m sending digital hugs, loves, and waves to whatever corner of the world you’re listening in from. This has been Josie and the Podcast.

About Josie

I’m Dr. Josie Ahlquist—a digital engagement and leadership consultant, researcher, educator, and author. I’m passionate about helping people and organizations find purposeful ways to connect, engage, and tell their unique story. I provide consulting, executive coaching, and training for campuses, companies, and organizations that want to learn how to humanize technology tools and build effective and authentic online communities.

My blog and podcast have been recognized by EdTech Magazine, Inside Higher Ed and the Chronicle of Higher Education. My book, Digital Leadership in Higher Education, was published in 2020 and was listed as a #1 new release for college and university student life. I have been growing my consultancy since 2013 and am based in Los Angeles. When I’m not helping clients lead online, you might find me training for a triathlon, spoiling my nieces and nephews, or exploring with my husband and our rescue dogs in our new RV called Lady Hawk.

I’d love to connect! Find me on Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Facebook.

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