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3 tips for growing your education master’s program in a tightening market

Explaining the “why” behind your education graduate programs can help you navigate the 9% dip in first-time graduate enrollment

February 9, 2024 , By Todd Heilman, Senior Consultant & Principal, Adult Learner Recruitment

Education programs experienced an 8.8% decrease in first-time graduate enrollment from 2021 to 2022, one of the largest dips in enrollment across all graduate fields. While there are likely several factors contributing to this decrease, one issue that comes into play is the difficulty of effectively conveying the value of education graduate degrees.

Many states don’t require a graduate degree to begin teaching at the K-12 level, and students often don’t recognize the myriad of education program options in the market or the variety of career outcomes they can provide. So as a marketer or enrollment leader, how can you communicate why a graduate degree in education can be beneficial for adult students and fill your programs effectively? Read on for three tips.



  • -8.8%

    Decrease in first-time enrollments in education graduate programs

1. Talk about your program’s differentiators

One important—and effective—approach that can help you persuade students who are on the fence is to focus on promoting what makes your programs unique from others. Maybe you have a variety of unique program options that you can include in your marketing. The shortage of education graduates in special education, education administration, and counseling (just to name a few) is often overlooked. If you offer specialties, tracks, or programs in areas that can make your graduates stand out in their job search, make that prominent in your marketing. This also assures students that if they decide that teaching isn’t for them, your program offers options for them to pursue other career paths.

Maybe you have only a few education programs, and they are only in traditional education fields like elementary or secondary ed. How should you promote what makes you different? Think outside the box: does your program or institution have any unique connections with local school districts, education-focused companies, or even industries outside of education? Prospective adult students are pragmatic and outcomes-focused, so evidence that your program can produce students ready for a career in multiple industries would reassure them of the benefit of returning to school.

With a rise in stealth shopping behaviors, finding prospective education students early in their search process is an important but difficult endeavor. EAB’s lead generation solution, Appily Advance, leverages a diversified acquisition strategy to source student names, many of whom are early in their education search, and maximize your program’s reach. Once these names are acquired, Appily Advance partners can use their institutional marketing to communicate their differentiators.

2. Appeal to prospects’ sense of mission

We know that there has been major learning loss in the United States due to the COVID pandemic. The Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA) found that as of July 2023, students would require an average of four months of extra classes to reach pre-COVID levels in reading, and nearly five months of extra classes for math. Whether to expedite learning during the year or help staff summer school or other year-extension opportunities, qualified teachers are desperately needed to assist students in learning at their grade level.

  • 30+%

    Of surveyed graduate learners said making a difference in the world was a top reason to return to school

Though helping to improve our education system is a daunting task, today’s adult learners are up for the challenge. In EAB’s 2023 survey of over 3,800 graduate and adult learners, over 30% of graduate students stated that one of their top reasons for going back to school was “to make a difference in the world”, which was the most popular response overall. It’s clear that having an impact is important to today’s adult learners, and education’s need has never been greater—a 2022 Brown study found that more than 163,000 teaching jobs in the U.S. are currently held by underqualified teachers, per each state’s teaching standards.

Consider appealing to students’ desire to affect change by creating messages around impact and societal change to include in your program marketing. By framing the pursuit of a graduate degree in education as a pathway to becoming an impactful educator in a time of crisis, you can align adult learners’ desire to make a difference with the societal need for skilled professionals to address the challenges exacerbated by the pandemic.

3. Diversify your audience

Within the context of enrollment declines, it’s more important than ever for education programs to ensure that they’re casting a wide net in their lead generation efforts. One important strategy is to find prospective students from a variety of careers and backgrounds by creating and nurturing relationships with industries outside of education. Don’t be afraid to get creative with where you seek out prospective students. For instance, specialty fields like higher education administration or instructional design are closely related to disciplines like management and psychology. Creating and maintaining connections within these industries and others may be beneficial. Keep an open mind when considering ways to fill your programs with a diversified audience.


It’s also important to ensure your lead generation strategy implements sources that locate students who are interested in all areas of education, from teaching in the classroom to education policy and consulting. Appily Advance helps graduate education programs find right-fit students from their region who are interested in any of six different areas of interest within the education field, enabling them to achieve their enrollment goals.

  • Appily Advance

    Appily Advance connects institutions with high-intent leads. With 15+ years of experience supporting undergraduate enrollment, Appily (formerly Cappex) now serves graduate & adult-serving programs, too. Visit to learn more.

Overcoming students’ lack of knowledge about the opportunities education graduate programs can provide is no easy task. But generating a diversified audience, effectively communicating your differentiators, and speaking to the heart of adult learners are just a few ways you can enhance your program marketing and inform students how attending your institution can benefit their personal and societal goals.

Todd Heilman

Todd Heilman

As a Senior Consultant and Principal in our Adult Learner Recruitment division, Todd supports the ALR division as a subject matter expert by providing strategic guidance on recruitment, marketing, enrollment management, and operations best practices (including CRM systems). Prior to EAB, Todd has more than 25 years of senior leadership experience, of which more than 20 are in the higher education industry. Most recently Todd served as the Chief Success Officer at a higher education CRM and marketing platform, where he managed all onboarding and success activities, helping institutions reach their engagement, enrollment and persistence goals. Todd has served as Vice President for Student Success and Engagement at Marymount Manhattan College. In this position Todd served as both the Chief Enrollment Officer and Chief Student Affairs Officer and was responsible for overseeing the full student lifecycle (including all support services) -- from prospective student to graduate, with degree in hand. While at Marymount Manhattan College, Todd also served in leadership roles as the Vice President for Enrollment Management, and Vice President for Enrollment Management and Marketing. Todd has also served as Dean of Enrollment at Pace University where he was responsible for the overall University enrollment (undergraduate, graduate, transfer, international) across multiple campuses. Prior to Pace University Todd was the Assistant Vice President for Enrollment Operations and CRM at St. John’s University. In this role Todd supported all enrollment management operations, implemented the University one stop shop, and oversaw CRM implementation and activities.

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