Mark Kooyman
5 min readApr 2, 2024

GenZers Are Recasting The American Economy

Living now in a college town, I have a great opportunity to observe and connect with GenZers.

While sociologists study the umbilical cord attachment that GenXer parents never severed with their GenZers kids, there are some interesting economic dynamics that are GenZers are driving.

GenZers have been in a lot of the news over the past week.

With the bulk of GenZers now in their High School and College days, the process of getting into college has become a challenge.

The average cost of college in the U.S. in 2024 is $36,436. A cost that covers tuition, fees, on-campus housing, books and food.

The cost to secure that 4-year degree now averages $146,000.

For a Gen X household with two kids, Gen X parents are looking at a cost of $300,000… if they have three kids, they are looking at $450,000.

The news release that was issued just yesterday is a tidal wave for many of the Gen X Parents. It is running in nearly all of the major digital, print and broadcast… The Federal Bureau of Student Aid (FAFSA) is so snowed under with the launch of a new application software system that many applicants will not get reviewed in time to meet 4-year college deadlines for Fall 2024.

On the surface, it sounds like a typical high-tech — government bureaucratic hiccup. But when you dig more into the situation, what is happening is a tidal wave.

Parents are having a super panic-attack.

GenZers are re-evaluating just how they craft their education and careers and many are doing it very independent of their parents.

Check out social media and observe many of the Gen Z exchanges.

Many readers have seen the statists I have quoted about the percentage of college students today by gender.

The 2024 update arrived in this past week.

As I write this, females now account for more than two-thirds — 67% — of enrolled college students in the U.S.

This week, Newsweek posted a story on its website titled, “Why Are So Many Young Men Abandoning College Degrees?”

The article addresses the answer in its first paragraph.

Directly quoted from the Newsweek article… “There is rapidly growing and widespread skepticism among GenZers as to whether the degrees are worth the incurred debt to secure them.”

As a result, more and more GenZers are abandoning 4-year college degrees and are getting a trade certification instead.

This morning, an article with the headline, “Gen Z Picks Up The Toolbelt” ran on the front page of the Wall Street Journal.

The sub-headline… “More young workers go into skilled trades amid higher pay, skepticism about college.”

New technologies in fields from welding to machine tooling to nursing to auto mechanics have generated much more pay and benefits.

As the WSJ articles states, trade professions have “gotten a face-lift.”

In the last 12 months between April 2024 and April 2023, U.S. college enrollment has dropped by nearly 4%.

During the same time period, enrollment at vocational-focused community colleges and trade schools has increased by more than 15%.

Reading posts from business, academic and political leadership, many believe that what happened during the past 12 months may be just the beginning of a tidal change.

Some of the blog posts forecast more than triple trade school enrollment in the next year with the FAFSA mess hitting the news this week.

A set of national survey reports issued last week cited that the GenZers are the most “emotionally distressed” generational group in the U.S.

Here in a college town packed with GenZers, I went out and explored similar insights and found similar viewpoints of the world at-large.

Many believe that college debt will never get paid back, they will never be able to purchase a house, they believe that an economic recession will hit in the next 90 days and the have no trust left for big government and big business.

However, I also heard GenZers firmly state that they were not planning to sit quietly and face the consequences.

While Washington and Wall Street are perceived beyond their control, as one of the GenZers I interviewed stated, “by damn we are taking charge and planning out our own way of overcoming roadblocks where we are in control.”

Nearly half of the GenZers I spoke to are currently evaluating whether to secure a trade school degree in addition to their 4-year degree.

As one Freshman male GenZer considering shifting to a trade school said, “why should I continue building debt when I can get a degree quicker and have a job secured that delivers nice paychecks before I graduate.”

The other half of the GenZers who are staying on course to secure a 4-year college degrees, quickly shared in the interviews that they have friends and relatives who are applying to trade and tech schools vs. 4-year colleges.

A share of the female GenZers commented that they might bring home a higher salary than a trade school graduate husband, the husband will have more job security!

There was a fellow Boomer sitting next to me as I was interviewing the GenZers. The Boomer told me that he was a CFO working for a distribution warehouse firm.

He went on to say that there is a lot of talk among manufacturing and distribution business leaders about how much there will be a shift to trade skills and how many of the firms are exploring the bringing production and manufacturing back to the U.S.

Those business leaders comment quickly tat the trade schools are going to tun out a better educated and trained workforce than can be found abroad.

While GenZers are a third in size smaller than Millennials, their impact may be way more significant on the U.S. economy than many think.

What is emerging is not a carbon copy of the trade skills of the past.

In fact, the talent emerging might elevate trade skills to a completely different level where high tech is integrated into the mix since GenZers are the first generation in the U.S. to interact with computers since their Kindergarten days.

The March 2024 EXPERIENCE Blogpost highlights an industry — fast food — that is about to get totally re-engineered. This April 2024 EXPERIENCE blogpost showcases a workflow that is about to get totally re-engineered … and a new economic and social paradigm as well.

The GenXers will not go down in history as a generational force of change and culture.

But the GenZers who they birthed just might.

Mark Kooyman

CEO & Discovery Chief at EXPERIENCE Insight Group, Inc. In the business to discover and craft brand experiences that humans seek out and engage in.