In partnership with our good friend, Casey Lewis, trend forecaster and author of the Gen Z-focused newsletter, After School, we’re unpacking some of the rising trends impacting Gen Z both in and out of the classroom this school year.
Our write-ups are featured in a special (extended) “Back to School with After School” edition of her newsletter. Take a quick scroll through the trends below, and be sure to subscribe to After School.
Education has been a major national flashpoint this year: The Supreme Court effectively ended affirmative action, while conservative states are pushing through questionable syllabi filled with historical inaccuracies (DeStandards are falling…rapidly). AI’s role in the classroom is next on the docket, and we’re expecting to see a continuation of the debate around whether or not educational institutions should embrace or eschew tools like ChatGPT. Plagiarism rests at the center of the discourse (for now), but we can also see how these tools might be a part of the ongoing culture wars that have shifted into the classroom. Even as some studies show that ChatGPT “leans liberal,” some districts are using it to allegedly help recommend library books to remove.
More high school graduates are foregoing college altogether, questioning the merit of higher ed in a challenging economy and its ability to secure high-paying, fulfilling careers. Brands are tapping in to provide additional value and alternatives, like Roblox’s on-going partnership with Parsons. Google is offering competitive apprenticeship programs, while IBM and Delta are dropping college requirements to focus more on skill set and experience, creating a direct line to the professional world. Edtech company Antimatter is also experimenting with new educational formats: meme flash cards anyone?
As the cutthroat college admissions cycle grows more competitive, undergrads are feeling the pressure to make their four years picture perfect. Some anxious freshman women are forcing their parents to cough up $4,000 on sorority consultants to learn about appropriate etiquette ahead of rush season, in addition to dropping $20,000 on the proper attire (yikes). Meanwhile, “silent competition” on TikTok for the most aesthetic dorm decor is boosting retailers’ sales this back-to-school season, pushing newly admitted undergrads to hire interior designers to turn their tiny rooms into stylish spaces. Some students are even joining a college organization called Reach (also friends of D1A!), which coaches aspiring creators on how to build their personal brands.
The Supreme Court’s 2021 NIL decision—paving the way for student athletes to (now, legally) get compensated for endorsements—has dramatically changed what it means to be a college athlete. Since then, we’ve seen brands get creative (and very weird) with partnership deals: Punter Matthew Coughlin endorsed Locked On Spartans podcast by tweeting, “I’ve never listened to it, but I’m sure it’s not terrible,” While Alabama's Kool-Aid McKinstry signed with, well surprisingly, Kool-Aid. We expect the endorsement deals to keep rolling in, especially as (talented!) nepo athletes like Bronny James kick off their college careers. With some athletes earning upwards of $25,000 for a TikTok post, young athletes are pressured to prioritize building an online persona to earn deals. This growing pressure, plus the jaw-dropping sums of money involved, will also inevitably spark more conversations around wealth gaps among college athletes.