Debunking Gen Z Spending and Tech Habits: Here’s the Real Story

May 25, 2023


Have you ever wished you could read students’ minds to gain valuable info about how you can improve processes and services on campus? Well, wonder no more. To help our clients create a better campus experience for students, Transact Campus partnered with Jason Dorsey (called a “research guru” by Adweek) and the Center for Generational Kinetics (CGK) to conduct an in-depth national study of current college students, high school juniors and seniors. CGK is the leading research firm in generational studies and solutions. The unprecedented study, “Exploring Financial Habits and Technology Use Among College Students,” surveyed 1,376 participants ages 16 to 30 online. The majority of the study’s subjects were Gen Z (93%), with 7% classified as Millennials.  

Gen Z is the fastest-growing, most influential generation of current higher education students. They bring a different set of priorities, norms, and expectations from campus recruiting and student retention to on-campus security and digital payments.  

Transact is motivated to deliver student research-based insights to help campus administrators better understand what members of Gen Z want and expect. By doing a deep-dive into the trends, emotions, and behaviors that drive their demands and experiences, they will be better-equipped to leverage these findings to maximize student reach and engagement.  

Our ultimate goal was to bridge the gap between emerging trends and campus strategy. A wide range of areas were explored in this study, such as: 

Some of the questions we hoped to answer through this study included: 

  • How can campus administrators identify what technology to focus on to achieve the most important outcomes? 
  • What matters most to current and prospective students now—and by generation? 
  • What do Gen Z members most want, appreciate, advocate for, and love when it comes to campus recruiting, on-campus experiences, payments large and small, as well as security? 

Student payment expectations: 3 things you should know 

  1. The ability to make payments on campus and have positive experiences is a priority for students. 

    “72% said ease of payment should be one of the ways colleges are rated on student experience.” 

  2. Cumbersome tuition payment processes are a great source of frustration for students. 

    “Over half (53%) said the most frustrating or annoying payment process is paying for tuition.” 

  3. We tested 10 different college payment interactions (tuition, paying for books, loading money onto student IDs, etc.) to determine the root of most complaints. 

    “The #1 frustration across every single type of college expense situation was not having the option for mobile payments.” 

66% students feel safer and more control when paying online
74% say payments should be ways colleges are rated
72% payments should be ways colleges are rated

When discussing student IDs, security, and technology in general, the study revealed that Generation Z has grown up with smartphones, digital payments, and social media, and this technology drives the way they think, act, study, work, and conduct business. Here are some insights gleaned on these topics:

Student IDs, security, and technology: 3 surprising insights 

  1. College students expect technology to be fully integrated into their campus life, and this highly impacts the value of their college experience. 

    “77% said technology is very important or somewhat important when deciding on which college or continuing education institution they want to attend.” 

  2. Gen Z students expect their student ID to be digital and give them access to everything from their dorms and the library to food delivery, events, and mobile payments. 

    “A majority (55%) think colleges that don’t offer digital IDs are ‘stuck in the past.’” 

  3. Students’ digital experiences significantly impact their decision-making processes. 

    “70% of traditional college-aged Gen Z students (18-22) and 72% of the fully study sample (current high school and college students) think the availability of digital IDs is an important factor when deciding on which college they want to attend.” 

It’s clear from the research data that students would be happier if campuses streamlined and simplified processes. By providing more convenient, user-friendly experiences, colleges will be better poised to recruit and retain students in the future.  

The data from this study is invaluable to Transact’s Product Management team and helps us better understand how students prefer to use their ID’s and make payments as well as helping us to better understand the technical challenges that they face on campus. This research will help ensure that we are focusing on the top priorities for our clients while building out our product roadmap and payments solution strategy. 

Information + insights = action!  

A study of this magnitude took months to coordinate and execute—this was truly a team effort that involved a lot of moving parts. Thanks to the partnership and collaboration of the research team at CGK, we can share these unprecedented insights with Transact and our clients. We commissioned this research so you wouldn’t have to; we’re proud to present information you need to know but can’t find anywhere else.   

We’re confident that by studying and analyzing students’ spending and technology trends, campus administrators will be able to better meet and exceed students’ needs.  The data gleaned here will help schools allocate the resources they need to effectively prioritize goals and take actionable measures to create the best student experience possible.  

Now that you have this information, what should you do next? 

The most exciting aspect of what the research study uncovered is that the technology students want and expect already exists and is available. Here are a few actions you can take now to better meet students’ technology expectations and enhance their total campus experience:  

  1. Download and share the study with colleagues in other departments on campus so they too understand the key insights from the research and can use these insights to help inform their campus strategy and actionable plans. 
  2. Contact us for a briefing on the study's findings. We'd be happy to share the findings with your internal team and answer any questions. We're here to help! 
  3. Meet with us for a free campus technology assessment. 
  4. Explore our Infographic.