A new national survey from North­eastern Uni­ver­sity reveals that mem­bers of “Gen­er­a­tion Z”—those born in the mid ’90s or later—are highly self-​​directed, demon­strated by a strong desire to work for them­selves, study entre­pre­neur­ship, and design their own pro­grams of study in college.

According to the new survey, 63 per­cent of the respondents—all between the ages of 16 and 19—said they want to learn about entre­pre­neur­ship in col­lege, including how to start a busi­ness. Nearly three out of four (72 per­cent) said that col­leges should allow stu­dents to design their own course of study or major. In addi­tion, 42 per­cent said they expect to work for them­selves at some point, nearly four times higher than the actual per­centage of self-​​employed Amer­i­cans. This finding was even more pro­nounced among African-​​Americans (60 per­cent) and His­panics (59 percent).

A new gen­er­a­tion of Amer­i­cans is on the rise: highly entre­pre­neurial, plu­ral­istic, and deter­mined to take charge of their own futures,” said North­eastern Pres­i­dent Joseph E. Aoun. “Those of us in higher edu­ca­tion must listen to this next gen­er­a­tion and enable them to chart their own paths, gain valu­able expe­ri­ence, and become the leaders of tomorrow.”

Infographic of survey results

Info­graphic of survey results

The indi­vid­u­alism of Gen­er­a­tion Z does not appear to be at odds with achieving their goals through a tra­di­tional higher edu­ca­tion frame­work. Eighty-​​one per­cent said obtaining a col­lege degree is impor­tant to having the career they want—compared to 74 per­cent from a 2012 North­eastern survey of the gen­eral public. Among Gen­er­a­tion Z respon­dents, 65 per­cent say the ben­e­fits of a col­lege degree out­weigh the costs.

Despite these find­ings, respon­dents have trep­i­da­tion about the cost of col­lege, with 67 per­cent saying they are con­cerned about being able to afford col­lege. Gen­er­a­tion Z appears to be par­tic­u­larly averse to stu­dent loan debt; 25 per­cent say they don’t think any debt is man­age­able and 44 per­cent saying they could only handle debt pay­ments of $100 a month. Finan­cial wor­ries for Gen­er­a­tion Z extend beyond col­lege, with 64 per­cent saying they are con­cerned about being able to get a job and 60 per­cent expressing con­cern about having enough money.

This finan­cial anxiety—perhaps incu­bated in the Great Recession—is cou­pled with a strong desire to become more finan­cially edu­cated and to obtain real-​​world expe­ri­ence. Eighty-​​five per­cent said they want to be taught prac­tical skills in col­lege such as finan­cial plan­ning and saving for the future. Seventy-​​nine per­cent believe their col­lege edu­ca­tion should include some form of pro­fes­sional expe­ri­ence such as internships.

Con­trary to the pre­vailing nar­ra­tive about today’s teenagers, the survey revealed some­what modest enthu­siasm for tech­nology, par­tic­u­larly its use within higher edu­ca­tion. For example, only 52 per­cent said an online degree will be rec­og­nized and accepted the same as a tra­di­tional col­lege degree in the near future, com­pared to 67 per­cent of young pro­fes­sionals already in the work­force, who were sur­veyed by North­eastern in 2012.

Sim­i­larly, in their per­sonal lives, tech­nology hasn’t sup­planted in-​​person inter­ac­tion. Only 15 per­cent of Gen­er­a­tion Z respon­dents say they prefer to interact with friends via social media than in person. Only 38 per­cent said they make most of their pur­chases online.

On a range of social issues, Gen­er­a­tion Z exhibits strong sup­port for equality. Seventy-​​three per­cent agreed that everyone should have the right to marry regard­less of sexual ori­en­ta­tion, and 74 per­cent said trans­gender people should have equal rights. Fifty-​​five per­cent said everyone should have the right to become a U.S. cit­izen, regard­less of where they were born and how they came to the country.

Other note­worthy find­ings:
•    61 per­cent said they know someone who has been cyber­bul­lied or stalked online
•    55 per­cent plan to live or study abroad in the future
•    69 per­cent said their par­ents are their top role models
•    29 per­cent indi­cated their main source for infor­ma­tion about major events is online news sources such as CNN​.com or NYTimes​.com, com­pared with just 12 per­cent who said they get news from what their friends post online
•    61 per­cent said the gap between rich and poor is harmful to their gen­er­a­tion
•    64 per­cent said they are con­cerned about the U.S. going to war
•    64 per­cent said health­care should be free for everyone

The national survey is the fourth in Northeastern’s “Inno­va­tion Imper­a­tive” thought-​​leadership series on the future of higher edu­ca­tion and its rela­tion­ship to the global economy. This newest poll, con­ducted by FTI Con­sulting, included tele­phone and online sur­veys with more than 1,000 teenagers (16– to 19-​​year-​​olds) from Oct. 8 – 23, 2014. The margin of error is +/​-​​ 3.08.

The release of the find­ings will take place Tuesday morning at an event at the New­seum in Wash­ington, D.C., orga­nized by North­eastern in part­ner­ship with Mar­ket­place from Amer­ican Public Media. The summit, titled “Inno­va­tion Imper­a­tive: Meet Gen­er­a­tion Z,” will include a panel dis­cus­sion fea­turing North­eastern Pres­i­dent Joseph E. Aoun; Amy Scott, edu­ca­tion cor­re­spon­dent for Mar­ket­place; Bridget Terry Long, the Saris Pro­fessor of Edu­ca­tion and Eco­nomics at the Har­vard Grad­uate School of Edu­ca­tion; and Keyaun Hey­darian, a 17-​​year-​​old high school senior and founder of Col​legeRole​Model​.com.

Mar­ket­place host Kai Ryssdal will mod­erate the dis­cus­sion. Watch a livestream of the summit begin­ning at 8:30 am on Tuesday morning.

More infor­ma­tion is avail­able at north​eastern​.edu/​i​n​n​o​v​a​t​i​o​n​s​u​r​vey.