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Marketing efforts need to evolve to address the needs of the new ‘traditional’ student

Adult learners are becoming a more important segment of the recruitment pool Bob King, Managing Director, Collegis Education
University Business, January 2015

What does the typical student of today look like compared to the student of five or 10 years ago? Who is the new “traditional” college student?
The non-traditional adult learner is now more prevalent than the traditional college student who comes straight from high school. This is where the market is growing, and the colleges and universities that are successful in achieving their enrollment goals are targeting efforts toward these new “traditional” adult students instead of ignoring this demographic and continuing to focus all efforts on attracting
high school graduates.

How do marketing efforts need to be adapted in order to attract this non-traditional adult student?
The way non-traditional adult learners research, consider and select a higher ed institution is very different than that of the traditional student. Adults focus on career outcomes and what their degree will do to improve their financial situation, help them obtain a job, or advance their current position. They research institutions online and are knowledgeable of their education options and the opportunities offered at each school under consideration. And unfortunately, many college and university websites are nothing more than digital viewbooks that showcase the college lifestyle instead of addressing the questions prospective students need answered. Institution websites should be robust and help to drive application decisions for students. The colleges and universities that are successful in keeping enrollments up are those with leaders who recognize that the primary purpose of a website is to inform prospective students of the opportunities available at the institution. They should have a seamless user experience and effectively deliver the right messages at the right time during a student’s consideration phases.

What are the best practices concerning retaining these students?
The adult learner is far more unpredictable than the former traditional student. Retention can be a bigger issue than recruitment, especially for online learners. Through social media and the digital community, administrators need to be focused on proactive outreach to students, rather than waiting for students to come to them with an issue. When it comes to academic performance, if faculty notice a student has missed two assignments in a row, they should approach the student and figure out what is causing the issue. In any other industry, it would be called providing an excellent customer service experience. 

In the next 12 to 18 months, what will college and university leaders need to understand in order to speak to and attract the non-traditional adult student?
Administrators need to understand the value proposition of their institution. Reputation and history should not be taken for granted as reasons why students will attend. Every college and university has a unique differentiator that sets them apart from competitors. Administrators need to dig deep to understand why students come and stay at their institution, and then develop clear messaging that
emphasizes this value proposition.

Bob King is the Managing Director for Collegis Education, and has built his career in establishing entrepreneurial marketing teams and integrating industry best practices into developing organizations.

For more information, visit www.collegiseducation.com.

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