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Information Overload for Non-Traditional Students

Community college administrators are still learning how best to communicate with the droves of non-traditional, adult students enrolling for degree programs nationwide.

In trying to understand why so few continuing, adult students were taking advantage of last year’s early enrollment period — where students could guarantee convenient class schedules, among other benefits — Monroe Community College administrators realized they had been making a grave error.

Kimberley Collins, the assistant vice president for academic services at the Rochester, N.Y. community college, told Inside Higher Ed that the college and its departments had sent students 286 separate communications in reference to early enrollment.

While traditional-age, residential students require constant reminders and nudges to complete administrative and bureaucratic tasks, adult students do not respond to that level of communication.

“We needed a communication plan for students who are working and juggling other aspects of their lives,” she said.

Ultimately, through the completion of a communications audit, the college realized they were sending students an average of 10 institutional letters and emails each week — diminishing the importance of these communications in general.

The most important lesson the college has learned from this exercise is the difference in needs between traditional-age students and adult learners. Adult students require a different approach to communications that is more concise and specific, while traditional-age students seem to require regular reminders and constant feedback.

As a result of the audit, the college changed its approach to communications and has already seen results; this year’s early enrollment period has seen a 30 percent increase in registrations compared to last year.

“People care a lot about what students know,” Collins said. “For students to succeed, we should get them these communications when they need them and not overwhelm them.”