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Insight Paper

Meet Your New Graduate and Adult Learner Insight Paper

Insights on Changing Student Behaviors and Preferences, Based On a Survey of 3,800+ Graduate and Adult Learners

After nearly a decade of growth, graduate and adult enrollment declined for the first time in nearly a decade in 2022. In this shifting market, leaders of graduate, online, and adult education programs find themselves tasked with growing enrollment while also facing staff and resource shortages, mounting competition, and rising marketing costs.

At the same time, the demographics of the graduate and adult learner market are changing. Gen Z accounts for a growing slice of the graduate and adult landscape, and with this change comes new expectations for marketing and program offerings. Enrollment teams will need to be nimble to develop marketing messages and strategies that will appeal to a new generation of graduate and adult learners and combat the ongoing headwinds.

Ultimately, these forces combine to create an uncertain future for many graduate, online, and adult programs—and an uncertain financial future for many institutions. The colleges and universities best positioned for success are those with a clear understanding of student mindset and behaviors—and an enrollment strategy designed with these trends in mind.

Key Challenges Facing Graduate and Adult Enrollment


Only half of surveyed graduate enrollment leaders met their headcount goals in 20221


Projected annual growth in graduate enrollment from 2021–2031, down from 3.2% average annual growth from 1990–2021

To help our partners recruit, enroll, and serve graduate and adult learners, EAB surveyed more than 3,800 prospective and current “adult” students about their preferences, needs, and behaviors. This report includes findings from that survey, along with insights from prior EAB Adult Learner Surveys to understand trends over time.

This report explores four insights into graduate and adult learners’ behaviors, preferences, and priorities:

  • Student search behavior and priorities are shifting
  • Students spend time researching, not applying
  • Students are increasingly making enrollment decisions based on cost
  • Students seek a variety of modality and schedule options

Download the Insight Paper