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Generation Z talks college and money

Eliza Mills May 29, 2015
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Generation Z is starting college.  The oldest members the group born after Millennials are graduating from high school or wrapping up their freshman year of college. 

Gen Z members, born in the late ’90s to early ’00s, are just beginning to grasp the economy, their finances and their future. At John Marshall High School in Los Angeles, Tia Reid, Emmanuel Reyes, Diego Jimenez and Beja Wolf are getting ready to graduate — all four are headed to college next year. 

For this cohort, who experienced a recession while they were in middle and elementary school, the economy has been unpredictable. Reid, Reyes, Jiminez and Wolf are navigating complicated methods of paying for school and juggling their personal finances.

Reyes says that even though he has a significant scholarship to UC Santa Barbara, he’s already saving for next year. “I don’t want to put this burden on [my parents],” Reyes says. “I know that my dad would work harder to pay for college, but I don’t want to do that to him. I’m growing up, so I want to take care of things myself. I want to work, and save that little money that I do get just to get this out of the way, and eventually, I’ll be the one that helps him.”

Reyes works part time as a caterer to help support his family during the school year, and he’s opening a bank account for the first time to manage his finances during school next year. “One of my biggest fears is going through college and investing all this money on my education and coming out without a job,” Reyes says. “I want to believe that I will find a job, and I hope that’s the case, that when I come out of college, there’s a job waiting for me.”

Reyes shares his skepticism about the job market with his classmates. Beja Wolf, who will be heading to Louis and Clark College next year, says, “I don’t think I’ve really trusted the economy because I’ve been indoctrinated with this kind of cynical viewpoint of ‘you’re not going to get a job,’ especially because in middle school and early high school we were going through a recession…. Unless you go into science or math, you’re not going to get a steady paycheck out of college.”

Wolf has some hope — she’s seen others “find jobs out of the strangest majors that you wouldn’t expect to coalesce with what they ended up doing,” but says she doesn’t think she’ll get a good job out of college. To get her footing in an artistic career, Wolf says, “I think I’ll probably have to work awhile.” 

Tia Reid, who will attend Occidental College in the fall, says that she’s aiming for education beyond college – she wants to be a lawyer. But she says even though “the economy is getting better … we were in a recession, so I’m not quite sure how trustworthy [the economy] is right now.” 

Reid is saving money from summer jobs. “Whenever I get money, I always put it in my bank account,” she says. “For next year, I’ve somewhat started saving. My parents are also contributing, but the school’s also helping with financial aid, so it’s not that big of a burden.” 

Limiting the financial burden of college can be a huge relief, especially for a generation whose members recognize the unpredictable job market that may await them. Diego Jiminez chose between Brown University and UC Berkeley based on their financial offers. “I’ve been pretty fortunate growing up, so there’s always been money,” Jiminez says. “It holds a certain importance, but it’s not always the top priority in my life.” Jiminez says his dad started saving for college “the day I was born.” He picked Berkeley because its aid package will, with some help from his parents, make it possible for him to graduate debt free. 

“I wouldn’t necessarily say that I trust the economy so much as I trust myself,” Jiminez says. He acknowledges that finding a job in recent years has been difficult, but thinks “those days are kind of past us … if you work hard, there’s definitely a spot for you.”

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