August 6, 2019

The Importance of Non-Traditional Learners in Higher Ed Marketing

Higher education in the U.S. is no longer focused solely on graduating high schoolers. Yes, high school seniors and even sophomores and juniors are still a major focus area for enrollment marketing strategy. But as the edu landscape adapts to sweeping changes in how prospects are seeking out schools, it must also adapt to the idea that the typical prospect is not the only prospect.

Growth in Adult Learners

When it comes to refining your student acquisition marketing strategy, there’s an important niche of prospects comprised of adult learners. These are college students 24-years or older, outside the traditional “graduating high schooler” profile most often associated with college. From 2001 to 2015, enrollment of these adult learners in higher ed rose by 35% according to a study from the Center for Education Statistics. That same study predicts continued growth through 2026. Some estimates even suggest adult learners make up as much as 60% of undergraduate students.

If you aren’t finding ways to tap into this unique and large segment of prospects, your school is missing out on enrollment opportunities. Adult learners are looking for the right higher education fit, but it takes a different approach to engage and convert them.

Understanding the Audience

To market your school to adult learners, you need to understand what makes them seek out higher education in the first place. Rising high school seniors tend to pursue college for entirely different reasons, and the messaging reserved for a younger school-seeker simply won’t resonate.

Numerous studies have uncovered the nuances of the adult learner prospect pool. One study recently found that 72% of adults looking to return to school had already completed some higher education. This means prospects with an existing knowledge of some schools and the enrollment process. Marketing content highlighting basics like application deadlines, class sizes, or campus life would not have the same impact on an adult who has been through it before.

Many adults returning to school are doing so to “level up” their careers. This under-employed market is more engaged with content discussing increasing their earning potential with a new degree, or in a new career. Or how fast they could finish the program and get back into the workforce. Other adults, including many in the above study, left school the first time due to financial barriers. Positioning your school as an affordable solution, focusing on lower-cost programs and providing details on financial aid can help engage an audience more in tune with their finances than a typical high schooler would be.

Tap Into Non-Traditional Class Types

When looking at adult learners to boost your enrollment numbers, you need to consider that the traditional college schedule may not work for them. Marketing your school to adults with courses falling between standard Monday-Friday work hours is a surefire way to lose prospects before they even consider the enrollment stage.

Given how many adult prospects are concerned with financial implications (or are focused on improving their job opportunities), it’s important your school’s offerings take such needs into account. Evening classes or flexible scheduling are a big selling point for prospects who may not be able to give up their job full-time. And tapping into any online learning opportunities your institution offers can be a great, and immediate way to engage this prospect pool. Featuring your school’s benefits that help support adult learners with their work and scheduling can help increase the changes of a conversion.

The most important takeaway when marketing to non-traditional learners, is not to lump them in with your other prospective students. Make an effort to understand adult learners and their needs, and use digital marketing tactics that show them your school is the best option to reaching their goals.

Want to know more about reaching adult learners and boosting your enrollment with a non-traditional prospect pool? Get in touch with our higher ed marketing experts.

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