Attracting Non-Traditional Learners in a Post-COVID World

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Looking for more insights and tips on how to adjust your student acquisition marketing during the COVID-19 pandemic? Check out our special COVID-19 resource center for the latest.

Non-traditional learners have always been a key piece of enrollment marketing strategies. The adult population makes up as much as 60% of all higher ed enrollment. Any school not tapping into the segment is missing huge potential.

And now with the impact of COVID-19 becoming more severe every day, it will be more important than ever for your school to leverage non-traditional learners in your enrollment strategy. While only time will tell the full impact that the pandemic has on higher education, it is a good bet that we will end up seeing some of the highest numbers ever of adult learners looking to go back to college by the time it’s all over.

Here are four reasons why non-traditional college students may become the biggest part of your enrollment marketing strategy moving forward, and how you can set up your digital tactics to best engage them.

A struggling jobs market

The financial impact of COVID-19 is going to propel the number of non-traditional higher ed prospects skyward. Already we are seeing record numbers of unemployment filings, and many fear this is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of long-term job and financial health. Higher education has always spiked counter to the economy, something we saw with skyrocketing enrollments during the last recession in 2008. And a large chunk of that growth was in adult learners – those 21 and over.

google trends unemployment searches graphic Google Trends data for “unemployment” over the last 90 days

Showcase quick, flexible options

As adults who have gone years comfortable in their jobs are suddenly met with unemployment beyond their control, many use it as a chance to gain new skills and explore different career paths. This is a driving force behind higher enrollment during times of unemployment, so make sure you are putting the right programs front and center for these prospects. If you offer certificate programs or other short-term options, now is the time to boost their awareness. 

Also focus on flexible online programs that are typically used to expand an in-demand skillset, like coding or IT programs. These are the types of skills that will be in-demand by people finding themselves needing to get new training and seek out new careers.

Be proactive on job hunter searches

One look at Google’s COVID-related trends report shows how Americans are turning to search during this time. Searches for “unemployment” are up 100X in just a couple of weeks. And searches for “jobs hiring now” have risen more than 3X since the start of March.

jobs hiring now graphic

Google Trends graphic for “jobs hiring now” over the last 90 days

Not every non-traditional learner who could be a prospective student is going to start out by searching for education. Many will focus on a new job first, without realizing that this could be the opportunity to gain new skills or start a new career. Being proactive at targeting these specific terms in your school’s region can help start the conversation with a would-be prospect. Put helpful information in front of them when they are clearly looking at a major life change. Information like flexible schedules, quick program completion times, and financial aid will be sought out. Providing information on those topics could take someone who started by looking for a job and turn them into someone who’s instead researching what it takes to go back to school.

Don’t avoid the financial conversation

Perhaps more than ever before, cost is going to be a major factor in non-traditional learners choosing to go back to school. We expect to see a surge in numbers as the coronavirus crisis plays out. We also expect that surge to largely be adults who lose their jobs. All of this will be happening while the markets, and in many cases the savings of these people, continue to fall.

Given that bleak outlook, you should plan your marketing strategy toward non-traditional learners to focus heavily on the financial aspect. Make sure to include sitelinks to financial information in your paid search ads. Use paid social campaigns to call out the lower cost of online programs (if applicable). Pair those campaigns with imagery of adult learners to help instill trust and familiarity. And make landing page content very clear about any costs, financial aid opportunities, and flexibility of pay. Now more than ever, your target adult learners will have a close eye on out-of-pocket costs to attend school.

Are you wondering how to future-proof your enrollment-gen strategies in such an unpredictable time? Get in touch with us, and let our higher ed marketing experts help.

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