Via Helps West Chester University Reach Risk-Averse Generation Z Students
Via’s “gamified” approach aids students in exploring study abroad
Throughout her nearly 20-year career in International Education, Trachanda Garcia has worked to help students see the possibility—and value—of global experiences. That’s been particularly challenging, post-COVID, in her current role as Associate Director of Education Abroad at West Chester University.
“The students we’re working with now are hesitant to take risks—and when they do take risks, they take them very seriously,” says Trachanda, who joined the Global Engagement Office in May 2022.
As an example, Trachanda points to competitive study abroad scholarships. While getting Millennials to apply was a challenge, it’s more so with Generation Z.
“Recently a student said, ‘Why would I apply for a national scholarship where I’m going up against thousands of students and there’s no guarantee that I would get it and it could possibly be a waste of my time, or I can just figure out other ways of funding,’” she recalls. “That made sense. I could see the cost-benefit analysis.”
Trachanda wondered if this was the reason other West Chester students weren’t applying for scholarships. Instead of a “student problem” she saw it as a “system problem” and an opportunity to reevaluate how the office was serving students.
Behind Gen Zers’ reluctance to take risks, such as study abroad, is “the fear of the unknown,” Trachanda speculates. Coming of age during pandemic lockdowns is a big factor, she believes. For years, students communicated virtually so making in-person appointments and running around campus to meet with people can be overwhelming, she says.
“That’s a big shift and a big pivot,” she says. “Even asking for things could be a bit uncomfortable—they think maybe it’s better to just not ask.”
Via Helps West Chester Engage First Gen Students
That feeling of overwhelm can be amplified for first generation college students, those who are the first in their family to attend college and/or earn a degree. At West Chester, 30% are first gen.
Students leaving the region is also uncommon, she adds. Located 25 miles west of Philadelphia, West Chester draws most of its students from Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey, and Maryland.
“A lot of our students have never left the area they grew up in, so the idea of going abroad and even thinking about locations, programs, and countries can be overwhelming,” Trachanda says. “A lot of our students don’t know what their opportunities are.”
Via, with its “gamified” look and feel, is making it easier for students to explore study abroad options without having to first meet with someone in-person, Trachanda says. She particularly likes Program Match, a guided experience in Via that allows students to receive program matches based on their personal preferences and priorities.
“The students who go in there and play with Via a little bit feel like they’re more informed,” she says. “Instead of homing in and saying, ‘I have to go to Spain,’ we’ve noticed a lot of students are more open to other study abroad opportunities.”
Trachanda has worked with first generation students throughout her career, which included stints at Haverford and Chestnut Hill colleges and Lock Haven University, all in her home state of Pennsylvania. West Chester, with 14,592 undergraduates and nearly 4,400 first gen students, has been the largest.
Via Provides Crucial Student Data
Over spring break, West Chester sent large groups to Italy, Ireland, and Poland. Many students who participated are “scheming” to figure out how they can participate in more study abroad opportunities in the future, Trachanda says.
“I definitely think we’re onto something and studying abroad will grow and continue to be larger at West Chester,” she says.
Via is helping West Chester make strides, Trachanda says. When she arrived at West Chester last May, the study abroad office was beginning the transition from a large study abroad software provider to Via.
“The analogy we keep using is that our previous software system was like using an Android phone and Via is more like using an iPhone,” Trachanda says. “Via’s more streamlined, simple, and intuitive.”
Via is also providing useful data that, once again, helps West Chester figure out how to best serve Gen Zers.
“One of the key points that came out of the data was housing preferences,” Trachanda says. “Students said they wanted dorms and hotels—they didn’t want shared living environments. While some of them were open to living with host families, most of them were moving away from that. Just knowing that kind of information helps us market and pivot and engage our students in ways that are meaningful to them.
“I just want to see more people have access to these opportunities.”
Like Trachanda Garcia at West Chester University, Via believes global experiences will change our world. That’s why we created traveler relationship management and travel risk management software, which helps universities and study abroad program providers to empower global experiences. If you want a true education abroad partner, turn to Via.