I started working in graduate admissions at the height of the recession. While I’m very happy that the economy has come back strong since then, there’s no denying that in today’s job market, graduate school is a less appealing option for many students than it was ten years ago.
Adult learners now need more compelling reasons to return to school. EAB recently asked students about those reasons (along with other related questions) in our survey of nearly 1000 adult learners, whom we defined as current and prospective students of graduate, online, certificate, and undergraduate degree completion programs. Students’ top enrollment concerns—finances and school-life balance—weren’t surprising. However, the research offers new data points that enhance our understanding of why some adult learners choose to enroll, why some don’t, and how leaders can apply these insights about shifting adult learner mindset to grow programs and meet enrollment goals.
1. 61% of adult learners say career or financial factors are their primary reason for enrolling
Our research validated the common notion that most students are motivated to return to school for career or financial reasons. While this isn’t shocking, it does reinforce that schools need to be very intentional about their messaging across the entire candidate journey and emphasize that enrolling will have a positive, significant impact on prospective student finances and lifestyle.
2. Family and work-related commitments are the top enrollment barrier
What about the candidates who are thinking about enrolling but are still undecided? In our survey, we defined this group as prospects who are interested in returning to school at some point but don’t have any plans to do so within the next two years. For them, family and work-related commitments were the top obstacle to enrollment. To recruit this group more effectively, colleges and universities need to demonstrate how enrolling can fit with these candidates’ existing high-priority obligations.
3. One in two adult learners considered online options when researching programs
This next finding goes hand-in-hand with the previous one. When we asked current prospects and students about the types of schools they were considering, one in two responded that they were looking at online programs. We also asked them which program factors were most important in their decision and found that factors related to program flexibility and modality ranked highly, including online courses, flexible scheduling, and time to degree. Adult learners are actively looking for graduate, online, certificate, and undergraduate degree completion programs that will accommodate their busy lifestyles.
Recommendations for your recruitment strategy
Looking at these data points, there are two important takeaways for strengthening your recruitment strategy.
1. Effectively conveying return on education is critical if you want to enroll students
You’ll need to demonstrate how enrolling in your program will provide your prospects with the necessary skills and opportunities to meet their career goals. And whenever possible, be specific. Messaging about job placement outcomes and alumni success stories are just a few of the ways that you could effectively show the value of your program. And once you’ve chosen your messaging points, be sure to integrate them throughout multichannel campaigns to provide a consistent, timely articulation of your value proposition that shows you understand prospective students’ needs and motivations.
2. Recruitment teams need to convey the potential for school-life balance in their marketing
Even if you’ve demonstrated to prospects how your graduate, online, certificate, or undergraduate degree completion program would be a worthwhile investment, they won’t enroll unless they know that it will work with their lifestyle. Show prospects how enrollment could become a reality, even with their existing work and family obligations. To do so, be sure that your marketing highlights any program options that allow for flexibility, including online courses, part-time opportunities, or expedited schedules.
In addition, make sure that your marketing imagery and copy represent the lifestyles and priorities of your target prospects. EAB’s Adult Learner Recruitment has found that digital ads that authentically reflect prospects’ daily lives and concerns tend to perform well. For example, we partnered with a business school whose target audience included many young, working men with children. We ran digital ads that depicted a young father with his son and included messaging about home-life balance, which resulted in a 62% higher click-through rate than ads that didn’t focus on this theme.
While recruiting students in today’s economy isn’t easy, by incorporating these recommendations, schools can build a stronger recruitment strategy that’s designed to meet the challenges of 2019 and beyond.
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