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We asked 100+ professional and adult education leaders about their top priorities

Here’s what they told us.

January 13, 2020

I spend a lot of time on planes. In addition to accumulating frequent flyer miles and more collegiate bobbleheads than I can count, crisscrossing the country to visit our partners on their campuses has given me the opportunity to hear firsthand about the priorities and challenges facing administrators who recruit and serve adult learners, or students enrolled in online, graduate, certificate, and degree completion programs.

But as someone who loves data, I wanted data to back up these anecdotes. To learn more, we launched our first ever Adult Learner Recruitment topic poll. Based on the priorities our partners have shared with us, we developed a list of 29 research topics related to recruiting and serving adult learners. We asked participants to tell us which topics resonate most with them. Our 161 participants include provosts and deans, enrollment managers and marketing directors, and come from all kinds of institutions in all corners of the country.

Who participated in the topic poll?

  • 1 president
  • 29 provosts
  • 18 vice presidents
  • 56 deans
  • 26 directors
  • 33 other titles, including vice chancellors, vice provosts, and associate directors

Defining and differentiating institution brand is a top priority

Campus leaders of all job titles and across all function areas shared they are most interested in strategies to identify their unique brand. While brand differentiation has long been a focus area for enrollment, marketing, and admissions teams, provosts also told us they are most interested in strategies to stand out.

And it’s no wonder. Today’s professional and adult education market is more competitive than ever­. Our researchers looked at the number of new programs launched compared to the conferral rate between 2013 and 2017. We found that the number of new programs was growing nearly twice as fast as the number of degrees conferred—meaning more programs with fewer students.

  • 75%

    of randomly selected university strategic plans list graduate enrollment or adult education as priority initiatives

The graduate market is only expected to get more crowded. Our researchers reviewed a sample of randomly selected strategic plans to learn just how many institutions are focusing on growing enrollment in adult-serving programs. We found 75% of randomly selected university strategic plans list graduate enrollment or adult education as priority initiatives.

Respondents seek insight into setting goals for adult-serving programs—and measuring ROI

Not only is recruiting adult learners becoming more competitive, it’s also becoming more expensive. For example, the cost per click for common search terms like “online graduate programs” has skyrocketed in recent years.

Keyword Cost per Click (US)
“Online graduate programs” $44.96
“Online MBA” $76.57
“Online MSN” $51.04

But despite these expenses, we often hear from administrators tasked with recruiting and enrolling adult learners that they face an uphill battle for resources and support on campus. Administrators at selective institutions shared they are especially interested in understanding how to best make the case for resources to support growth in adult-serving programs, while leaders at regional private institutions most often prioritize strategies to measure the return on investment in adult-serving programs.

In our work with Adult Learner Recruitment partners across all institution segments, we’ve found setting clear goals—and then quantifying results and return on investment—is key to advocating for the resources needed to recruit adult learners in the future. But as the pressure to grow adult-serving programs grows, setting realistic goals is easier said than done and why respondents seek guidance on this topic.


Recruiting and supporting degree completers is top-of-mind for campus leaders

One surprising finding from the survey was that respondents—from VPEMs to deans to provosts—told us that student success is one of their key challenges. In fact, this was one of the most common “write-in” topics. Student success has long been at the forefront of EAB’s research agenda and we serve hundreds of schools seeking to improve retention and student success. More recently, EAB has worked with our partners to help them better support adult learners in particular, implementing strategies from financial aid to virtual advising. But I didn’t expect it to be top of mind among enrollment professionals.

As I pored over the results of the topic poll though, I was reminded that putting students at the center occurs long before the student enrolls. Considering students’ perspective during the marketing and program planning processes is instrumental in ensuring students can successfully enroll and complete your programs. For example, removing unnecessary barriers in the application process and offering flexible scheduling options help adult learners enroll and persist.

Armed with this list of priorities, we’re looking forward to sharing insights and best practices to help administrators, and the adult learners they serve, succeed.

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