Envisioning the Diploma of the Future: Engaging and Educating Gen Z

Zach Brooke
AMA Higher Ed Symposium
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Key Takeaways
​What? Jaime Casap gave a keynote at the 2017 AMA Higher Ed Symposium on ways to engage with Generation Z.

So what? Technology is just one of many tools that gen z uses every day in their educational career.

Now what? By encouraging students to collaborate and innovate using new technologies, universities will set students up for success in their careers.

Google’s chief education evangelist says the future of transformative education embraces computer science while letting students customize their career goals

Jaime Casap’s life could have gone a lot differently. The child of a single mother who immigrated from Argentina, Casap grew up on, in his words food stamps and welfare in Hell’s Kitchen. Fortunately, he was smart enough to realize that education disrupts poverty. “I knew from an early age that getting a college degree was the most important thing I could focus on,” he says.

The next several years of his life were dedicated to following that instinct. He obtained bachelors degrees in political science and communications, supplanted by master’s degrees in public policy and public administration. The diplomas opened up opportunities once regarded as unobtainable. Eventually, his success led him to the role of chief education evangelist at Google, as well as room of the White House for an event with former First Lady Michelle Obama.

From that strength lauded platform, Casap continues to cheerlead for the value of higher education. “I’m not one of those reformers that will stand up and tell you that education is broken … or college needs to go away,” he says.

That doesn’t mean he’s blind to weakness or failures in academia. They are there, he says, organized largely around outdated models of learning and societal organization. It’s his job to help schools address them. “We need to bring education to the next level,” he says.

This is how:

1. Automation and machine learning will continue to replace human roles

Casap likes to point out that his employer, Google, didn’t exist when he finished grad school. When it launched in 1999, co-founders Larry Page and Sergei Brin used less computing power then two connected laptops today. His current model of cellphone, the Google Pixel, will be the worst piece of technology his three-year-old daughter will interact with in her life.

Automation is coming. It will eliminate many, many jobs, especially those considered low-wage and low-education. Gen Z knows this. “They know they can’t work in a low-wage job because they know the people doing the job are these little orange robots,” he says.

But what Gen Z may not know is that automation will also create new careers oppurtuniteis for specialized workers. Lots of these new jobs pertain to servicing all the automated machinery and operating systems, yes, but the future is not solely limited to computer science.

Take supermarkets, for instance. Casap imagines a world in the not too distance future where all cashiers and baggers are rendered obsolete by technological innovation. Scanners will track and add up every item in shoppers’ baskets or carts. Where the humans will be is in the aisles, working as dieticians, nutritionists or cooks, all answering shoppers’ complex food questions. Automation will make these jobs possible by freeing up money tied to cashier salaries.

2. Ask students what problems they want to solve

A common refrain of childhood is getting asked what you want to be when you grow up. Bad question, Casap says. Sixty percent of the jobs of the future don’t exist today. On top of this, Gen Z in particular is distrustful of corporations. They gained awareness of the world during the Great Recession, when millions of Americans lost their jobs and had their homes foreclosed on through little fault of their own. Some had older siblings who went to college only to return home unemployed and saddled with debt when they couldn’t find work in their field.

Instead, universities should engage prospective students by asking what problems do they want to solve. Casap says he hasn’t seen that question on many college websites, but it’s one that resonates deeply with a generation full of concerned skeptics.

“We want to make sure that this generation understands what we could give to them. I was looking for: come to college and these our your outcomes. I didn’t really see that,” Casap says.

Asking what problem teens want to solve allows them embrace purpose, autonomy and eventually mastery of skill set that they can plug into a host of vaguely understood but powerful career opportunities lacking titles small children can identify. 

While they’re at it, Casap says universities should spend a lot more time highlighting the fact many students can shape their own curriculum by their junior year, either through specialized offerings or through independent learning opportunities. Casap believe this potential college trajectory is underused as a selling point to Gen Z, who indicate they are profoundly in favor of customization.

3. Build lifelong learners by creating lifelong relationships

Casap’s other daughter is 25 years old, now living in the same Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood he grew up in (albeit much posher) and working as a video editor for CNN. In many respects, the investment he made to her college paid off. Yet, Casap recently told her alma mater’s president that the school was failing her now.

Casap envisions a university that doesn’t become disinterested in students after they complete a degree. Instead, his ideal college would periodically reach out to alumni to ask about their careers. That info can be checked against college transcripts to identify opportunities for continuing education. In the case of Casap’s daughter, that would mean offering basic journalism instruction to someone who majored in film but now works for one of the biggest news organizations on the planet. Or it means offering refresher courses about advances in film technology in the years since graduation. It also means organizing groups of alumni into professional networks.

Resonating with the next generation and ensuring the continued value of education in society doesn’t require radical reorganization. But it does require radical thinking based not on the legacy of the past, but of the challenges and opportunities of the future.

Or as Casap says, “Our job is to prepare kids for the future, so it makes sense that we need to understand that future.”

Author Bio:

Zach Brooke
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