Reaching and Engaging Gen Z: A Guide to HBCU Recruitment

August 22, 2023
Reaching and Engaging Gen Z: A Guide to HBCU Recruitment

In the dynamic landscape of higher education, a new era has dawned with the emergence of Generation Z, often referred to as Gen Z. As a higher ed professional, you understand that generational changes greatly affect the recruitment, enrollment, and admissions process – so it’s imperative to understand Gen Z in order to effectively “speak their language” when it comes to your marketing strategy. 

Born between the mid-1990s and early 2010s, Gen Z represents a generation that is reshaping the way institutions approach education. Specifically for Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), this paradigm shift brings both opportunities and challenges to the forefront of recruitment efforts. 


How to Define Gen Z for Higher Ed: “The Digital Natives” 

Gen Z is a generation characterized by its digital prowess, a trait shaped by growing up in an age of smartphones, social media, and constant connectivity. Their adaptability to technology and diverse online platforms enables them to process information swiftly and engage with content dynamically.     

The digital landscape is where Gen Z thrives, making online engagement a pivotal aspect of recruitment. From virtual tours to interactive social media campaigns, digital channels provide a direct conduit for HBCUs to reach prospective students. 


The HBCU Appeal: Align with Gen Z Values  

HBCUs have a rich legacy of fostering community, promoting diversity, and nurturing a strong sense of identity. These values align remarkably well with Gen Z's desire for authentic, inclusive, and socially conscious experiences. According to Pew Research, “Gen Z is more racially and ethnically diverse than previous generations,” and it is estimated that by 2026, the majority of Gen Z will be non-white.    

As an HBCU, you should be gaining momentum during this time to gain traction with these audiences as safe, inclusive spaces for learning.    

Crafting a compelling value proposition is key. You can highlight unique opportunities for personal growth, cultural enrichment, and social impact that HBCUs offer to resonate deeply with Gen Z's values and aspirations.    

To top it all off, Gen Z is poised to become the most highly educated generation in history thus far. Their innate familiarity with technology, coupled with a globalized information era, equips them with unparalleled access to knowledge. They are proactive and often characterized by self-directed exploration, making them lifelong learners – which is the perfect soil for HBCUs to plant seeds for recruitment opportunities. 


Key Challenges in Gen Z Recruitment for HBCUs 

Effective communication is pivotal due to lots of social media noise. Gen Z prefers direct, succinct, and personalized messaging. Overcoming language barriers and employing clear, relatable language can bridge the communication gap. Gen Z wants to feel like you actually understand them.  

We know that many HBCUs operate with limited resources. You can leverage cost-effective digital platforms and data-driven strategies to maximize outreach efforts without straining budgets.    

It’s also important to dispel misconceptions about HBCUs through transparent and informative content. Showcase the achievements and success stories of your HBCU alumni to challenge stereotypes. 


Strategies for Effective Gen Z Recruitment

  • Embrace personalization and authenticity. Gen Z sees right through the fake, so tailor your communication to resonate with individual aspirations. Gen Z appreciates authentic stories and personalized experiences that reflect their unique journey

  • Interact Socially. Social media platforms are Gen Z's virtual stomping grounds, so engage them through visually appealing content, live sessions, and interactive Q&A sessions so that they feel part of your university before they ever take a step on campus. 

  • Craft engaging content and stories. Share compelling narratives of students who have thrived at HBCUs. Showcase how your university cares about students and their passions. Since 55% of Gen Z respondents in an EY study said they are “very or extremely interested in environmental issues,” give them something to talk about. Illustrate how your institution empowers students to become change-makers.  

  • Establish peer-to-peer connections. Peer influence is a powerful recruitment tool. Facilitate peer-to-peer interactions to allow prospective students to connect with current HBCU students and gain insights into campus life. 


Future-Proof Your HBCU Enrollment Process

You have to adapt to evolving Gen Z trends, because the truth is, they will continue to evolve. Stay attuned to emerging trends and adjust recruitment strategies accordingly. Embrace a culture of continuous learning by regularly analyzing recruitment outcomes, gathering feedback, and refining strategies for sustained marketing success which will lead to higher student yield. 

Engaging Gen Z requires a strategic fusion of authenticity, digital prowess, and an unwavering commitment to your values.  

As Gen Z navigates a complex world, your HBCU can stand as a beacon of opportunity, offering an education that extends beyond the classroom. The power of Gen Z engagement in HBCU marketing efforts can greatly impact your enrollment numbers. By understanding their unique traits, challenges, and aspirations, HBCUs can craft recruitment strategies for students and their parents that not only resonate but also create a lasting impact.  

See how one HBCU increased enrollment by marketing to the right person, at the right time, with the right message.

Author Bio

Ryan Burkett is a senior partner and solutions delivery champion at Stratagon. Ryan shares passion in traditional, inbound, and digital marketing, but really gets his kicks building client experiences that never disappoint. Whether a envisioning a tradeshow or mobile tour, a targeted campaign or content-filled microsite, or even building customer strategy and business processes to help our clients deliver for their clients, Ryan delivers. Family man, sports fan, member of the Crossfit cult. Connect with him on Twitter and LinkedIn.