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Why you should be ramping up your graduate and adult growth strategy now-and how to do it successfully

February 16, 2022

From my recent conversations with institutional leaders, it’s clear that many are grappling with tough questions about their graduate and adult enrollment strategy. I frequently hear questions like, “Should we invest in expanding our market share in graduate and adult programs, given that undergrad is on the decline?” followed up by “Where should we focus based on our mission and strategic priorities?”

While these questions are difficult, they’re important to answer-and answer quickly-to capitalize on the outsized opportunity in adult enrollment and set the building blocks for your institution’s future.

The grad and adult market is growing

Not only has graduate enrollment grown more than twice as fast as undergrad enrollment over the past decade, but also it has outpaced growth projections. While the NCES projected a .2% annual growth in graduate enrollment from 2020 to 2030, actual growth has exceeded that so far – with a 2.4% increase in enrollment in 2020 and a 2.1% increase in 2021. In addition, adult enrollment already represents almost half of all higher ed revenue.

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    of higher ed revenue comes from adult-serving programs.

Graduate Enrollment Growth Outpaces Gains In Undergrad Enrollment…

… And Beats Recent Growth Expectations

Why you need to be ramping up your strategy now

Recent EAB research provides compelling data about the advantages of scaling up graduate and adult enrollment sooner rather than later. Our analysts found that the larger a school’s online graduate presence was before the pandemic, the higher their rates of graduate enrollment growth tended to be in 2020. And that trend held true even for schools with a small or medium-sized online presence before the pandemic.

We hypothesize that institutions with a greater capacity for online learning in 2019 likely saw higher rates of growth in 2020 because they had a more polished online experience, more flexibility to enroll new online students quickly, and more established strategies for marketing to adult students. If your institution is not already ramping up an online strategy now, you should consider the long-term benefits of starting sooner rather than later.

In addition, EAB partner data has long shown the compounding effect of marketing to adult students over multiple years. We know that a prospective graduate or adult student’s journey to enrollment can often take several years, meaning that well-executed marketing campaigns will have both near-term and long-term benefits, as shown in the partner example below.

Graduate Enrollment by Year, EAB Partner Institution

These data points illustrate that the marketing that your institution is-or isn’t-doing now is already influencing your ability to recruit students in 2023, 2024, and beyond.


Success requires finding and engaging hard-to-reach adult students at scale

The challenging news is: standing up a successful graduate and adult enrollment strategy isn’t easy. Institutions first need to determine which programs to prioritize for investment. Then, they need to aggregate a large audience of prospects from across multiple sources. And finally, they need the capabilities to create and monitor thousands of moments of micro-engagement, for thousands of students, across many channels and platforms, at scale.

Thousands of Moments of Micro-engagement, for Thousands of Students



The complexity of recruiting adult students demands a central orchestrator

Given that level of complexity, reaching and engaging adult students requires a central conductor to coordinate messaging, identify the right target audience, manage campaigns, and analyze data and impact. In addition, the central orchestrator must be informed by your institution’s specific adult goals, program portfolio, and long-term strategy.

This Complexity Demands A Central Orchestrator at the Program Level

Most institutions don’t have the resources to build, link, and manage all these functions in-house, which would require hiring a team of experts across many unique disciplines, including digital targeting, SEO, list purchase strategy, responsive multichannel marketing, and more. And in addition to establishing each function separately, schools would need to build an infrastructure that enabled deep integration across sources and channels to create a seamless, personalized recruitment experience for every student.

At EAB, we partner with institutions to help them manage this complexity. Adult Learner Recruitment combines custom lead generation with responsive, choreographed marketing campaigns at scale to help institutions ramp up their graduate and adult growth strategy to meet their enrollment goals.

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