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Enrollment Matters

5 ways to make meaningful connections with adult learners

Nontraditional students need a boost to overcome some of the barriers to re-enrolling
University Business, December 2018
Tom Ryan is an enrollment consultant at Schneider Associates, an integrated marketing firm based in Boston.
Tom Ryan is an enrollment consultant at Schneider Associates, an integrated marketing firm based in Boston.

Recruiting adult learners for continuing education and degree completion programs may be one of the most challenging tasks in higher education—but it also represents a great revenue opportunity because a large majority of the labor force does not hold a bachelor’s degree or higher.

One-third of the population graduated high school, 16 percent have completed some college coursework and 11 percent hold associate degrees, but only one-quarter have bachelor’s degrees or higher, according to a 2017 Bureau of Labor and Statistics report.

Many higher ed institutions are assembling teams and resources to inspire this portion of the workforce to continue with education. As our world continues to favor specialized or additional knowledge, colleges will continue to shape instruction to meet that need.

But getting adult candidates to enroll in degree programs is difficult. How can you break through? The short answer is ingenuity. Here are some ideas to better connect with adult learners at the top, middle and bottom of the funnel.

Grab their attention with relevant statistics

If you’re using digital channels to target an audience working in a specific field, back up your emotional messages with facts and figures that show the growth of their industry and their personal growth potential.

It’s particularly important to refresh creative campaigns that are generating fewer leads.

Contact them ‘yesterday’

We often get asked how soon an admissions representative should contact a prospective lead. Let’s compare the price tag of a degree program with other “products.”

If you submitted an inquiry for a home equity line of credit, a new midsize sedan or a vacation in Italy, how long would it take for the rep to contact you? You need to strike while the inquiry is hot and remove barriers that prevent you from connecting quickly.

The old paradigm was answering an inquiry within one to five hours. Some inbound marketing gurus suggest that leads need to be handled as quickly as 10 minutes after being received.

‘SMH did they get ur txt?’

If you’re not using today’s most common form of communication, you really should prioritize adopting a texting or messaging platform. You’ll be surprised how easy such a platform is to navigate.

Further, it is widely accepted (we’ve had zero complaints in three years) and highly effective with all age demographics.

Expand your schedule

This recommendation is a challenging one. But consider: How successful will you be at reaching at 11 a.m. a licensed practical nurse who works the night shift? Would you be able to make a midafternoon connection with an IT company office manager who has children in elementary school?

Adult learners are often balancing work, family, odd shifts, extra jobs, a social life and other challenges. To move them to the next step, you need to connect first, and that is often not during the 9-to-5 workday. Challenge your admissions team to follow up with applicants at odd hours—and watch your results improve.

Offer real help

An adult learner may delay enrolling simply because they can’t imagine adding one more thing to their plate. Can you secure transcripts for them? What about providing coaching sessions on financing the degree? How about phone appointments to provide application assistance?

If you take a hard look at your admissions processes, there’s probably more you can offer. It may require additional hands on deck, but when it comes to adult learners, it often takes an extra push to get their feet through the door.


Tom Ryan is an enrollment consultant at Schneider Associates, an integrated marketing firm based in Boston.