Director of Admissions, Corban University
Assistant Vice President of Marketing and Brand Strategy, Bowling Green State University
The views and opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views or opinions of EAB.
Universities throughout the country are facing the same issue—a dramatic decline in the number of high school graduates projected in 2025. COVID-19 has created additional enrollment instability, and undergraduate enrollment is being negatively impacted at many institutions while there is growth in online and graduate programs, which is accelerating the 2025 forecast.
Enrollment leaders are focusing efforts on recruiting adult learners. For traditional, residential universities, such as Bowling Green State University, this is critical to offset the loss of 18-year-old students who will be entering college in 2025.
Recruiting adult learners is different from recruiting traditional students, and admissions and marketing teams are shifting models to effectively market to post-traditional students. What are the primary differences between recruiting traditional and non-traditional students?
- The lack of test-taker lists makes it difficult to build a prospect pool
- Non-traditional students face more personal and professional obstacles to enrollment
- Adult students generally take longer to commit
- Messaging to this population is very different
Creating a marketing strategy optimized to recruit adult students can include some hurdles. Many marketing and admissions teams are stretched thin. There are often limited financial resources to devote to a wide-reaching digital campaign targeting adult students, and universities can’t afford to scale back on traditional undergraduate recruiting efforts. So how do institutions use existing resources to effectively market to prospective adult students?
It is important to develop messaging that addresses their needs, motivations and fears. Adult students are concerned with flexibility, customization and the support available. They are motivated by creating new and better opportunities for themselves and their families including higher pay, promotions, more options, flexibility and achieving a professional milestone.
As part of EAB’s research, respondents spent an average of 20 more seconds talking about their fears than their motivations—a testament to how important it is to address these concerns in messaging which include: Will I have enough time? Can I afford a degree? Am I capable of doing this?
Leverage current trends when considering solutions for increasing your adult learner enrollment. During the past two years, more professionals are changing jobs or experiencing layoffs, and we are firmly in the “Great Resignation” era. Align messaging to reach these prospects.
Institutions must diversify sources and have more than one funnel of students. Growing the list of prospects by diversifying the source of students to include test takers, institution inquiry pool, stop-outs, young alumni, undergraduate students, and first-party digital targeting.
Finally, don’t lose sight of what’s working. More enrollment and marketing offices are feeling the pressure to convert, and that can sometimes mean institutions go “all in” towards new initiatives. However, there are likely existing tactics that are working well at your institution. All of these solutions—old and new—work together to find the “right-fit” student for the institution and provide the best chance to stay relevant and heard in a crowded adult learner market.
There is a lot of work to be done at BGSU and Corban University as we work to grow our adult learner population, but we have a solid strategy to build from. EAB has provided many resources as we worked to develop a marketing plan for adult learners including:
- EAB: Understanding and Recruiting Adult Degree Completers
- EAB: Want to increase graduate and online enrollment? Start by strategically growing your prospect pool
- EAB: Accelerate the adult degree completer’s journey to enrollment
- EAB: Understanding your future adult learner
- RNL: 2021 Marketing and Recruitment Practices for Graduate Students
- EAB: Adult Learners: Who they are and what they want from college
- EAB: Adult Learner Recruitment Toolkit: 10 tools to boost enrollments
- EAB: 2 ways to address adult learners’ concerns about program flexibility
See the fellows' blogs from the capstone projects
Jordan Lindsey, Amy West, and others participated in EAB’s Rising Higher Education Leaders Fellowship in fall 2021