The rise of the adult learner

You know why adult learners are one of the fastest-growing segments of the student population: They’re looking to advance their career. Take advantage of tuition assistance. Complete an unfinished degree. Network with their peers. These are just a few of the motivations, published in a EMSI poll in 2015.

But what can a college or university do to attract and retain this growing cohort? We plumbed the depths of the research world, and found a few common strategies that the most successful programs have already started using. While they won’t reverse the geographic concentrations or share of adult learners overnight, they can put you in the right position to compete and focus your marketing efforts on what matters to them.

Make your brand “relatable” to adult learners

Adult learners have a lot in common. They want to find personal fulfillment. They want to re-certify or re-skill in areas that have changed, or roles that have recently been created. They want their education to be packaged and delivered in a format that works for them. Juggling jobs, family, and finances, today’s adult learners will make their decisions based on what they need, not what you happen to be offering. So make sure your program matches their needs, and that the delivery of learning is as well-thought-out as the curriculum itself.

Focus on the customer experience

Your inclination for the traditional student might be to share a virtual tour, a beautiful shot of the quad at dawn, or a video clip of a sports arena packed with thousands of screaming fans. But the reality is: that’s not what adult learners care about. Today’s non-traditional students barely have the time to find a parking spot on campus or grab a bite to eat before class, let alone soak up the experience. Above all, they want to know that their enormous sacrifice in time, money, and effort is going to be rewarded. Tell them why students just like them have returned to finish their degree, and why they’re even more successful now.

Be supportive and patient

On average, it will take an adult learner 8.4 years to complete a Bachelor’s degree, while those who start college at the traditional age require only 5.3 years, according to a report by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. Still, adult learners bring experience, life lessons, and real-world skills that can introduce a whole new dimension to the classroom and to their cohort. Help them find their way to the right programs, concentrations, and paths they need to follow to be successful and you’ll tap into an already-driven group of new students.

The number of adult learners is only projected to increase through to 2024, changing where and how knowledge is disseminated and learning happens. Make sure your institution is prepared for the shift, which is already well underway.

Stay tuned to Backe social, where we’ll continue to explore the challenges that colleges and institutions face today and tomorrow – in our Higher Education series.

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