Navigating White Waters: Generation Z Untraditional College Transition Amid Unprecedented Social, Health, and Academic Crisis

  •  Patrick Turner    
  •  Efren Miranda Zepeda    


Over the last three years, crises of a historical magnitude have had a profound impact on the higher education system in the U.S. During the spring of March 2020, COVID-19, referred to as the coronavirus, caused a significant health crisis, killing hundreds of thousands of people, while disrupting the educational, economic, and health system (Gupta, 2021). The following year, a 46-year-old black man, George Floyd, was brutally murdered by a white police officer, sparking violent protests and debate around racial equity, policing, and justice. A toxic and polarizing political environment further complicated issues under the controversial leadership of President Donald Trump. Colleges and universities had to quickly pivot to remote instruction, enforce mask mandates, and carefully navigate discourse to minimize disruption to the education of students. The adjustment was challenging for most institutions, particularly those classified as Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSI) or Minority Serving Institutions (MSI). They are usually under-resourced but serve many marginalized, low-income, first-generation, and at-risk students. These organizations encountered both obstacles and opportunities in the attempt to usher in a new generation of learners, Generation Z. Generation Z, often referred to as Gen-Z, are those individuals born between the years 1995-2015; a group that has experienced an untraditional and unprecedented college transition that will have a lasting impact on their younger and older adult lives. This qualitative case study explored the lived experience of Generation Z college students as they navigated the uncertain and tumultuous college transition into an HSI/MSI during the large-scale U.S. and world crises.

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