Competing for Adult Students
The modern higher education landscape is vastly different than it was even ten years ago. Increasing numbers of adult students are returning to the academy and state funding for higher education has been steadily declining. Of course, as the landscape of the industry changes, strategies for success must change along with it.
Competing for Adult Students
Given the growth of the adult student population base, the reduction in state funding for higher education and the national emphasis on increasing the number of credential-holders, it is imperative that higher education institution begin making greater efforts to enroll and serve adult learners.
Continuing Education units must work hard to spearhead their respective university’s efforts in competing for and enrolling adult students.
How Can States Support Adult Higher Education?
Higher education institutions and governments have a shared responsibility to ensure that adult learners have access to the educational opportunities necessary for them to achieve the career and life they want to reach.
States have historically set their focus on supporting traditional-age students, but as demographics evolve the time has come for them to put more investment and energy into improving higher education for adults.
Frank Palatnick | UN Advisor of Global Education, International Agency for Economic Development
Ensuring adults have access to necessary remedial and foundational education is the key to strengthening communities and societies.
DEBATE | What Type of Institution Is Best-Suited for Adults?
Since most for-profit institutions were built from the ground-up, they did not have to overcome cultural and policy barriers than create challenges for adult students in many other long-established higher education institutions.
Private, not-for-profit institutions provide students the personalized guidance they need to ensure that they have a positive, successful and rigorous educational experience that makes them want to come back for more.
Since for-profit institutions have done most of the leg-work in developing high-quality online education models, it is up to public institutions to widen access to low-cost, highly-flexible higher education.
What Do Adult Students Want?
By understanding the needs of adult students, colleges and universities can tailor their programming to meet those needs and, in turn, find that happy and satisfied students and graduates will share their experiences with their friends and colleagues.
There are a range of requirements different adult students have to pick the institution they want to attend, from flexibility and personalization to rigorous educational standards.
Ensuring that class scheduling lines up with an adult student’s work and family needs is critical in the decision to enroll at a given college or university.
To choose an institution, a student must know that the programming on offer is relevant to their career aspirations and that they can receive top-quality education at the time and place that is most convenient to them.
Establishing Brand Loyalty in Continuing Education
Being generous with free branded gifts will keep your institution top of mind for adult learners when they consider their continuing education options.
Ensuring your institution has an established and recognized brand is only half the battle. Once that brand is established, colleges and universities must go above and beyond to ensure their marketing plan is being carried out and received successfully.
Enticing Alumni to Enroll for Ongoing Education
Despite the programs in place for alumni to take advantage of at their alma mater, higher education institutions typically do not have up-to-date contact information available to contact their alumni.
A highly positive undergraduate experience is all it takes for some professionals to decide to look up their alma mater’s offerings when searching out continuing education opportunities.
Twitter provides higher education institutions with a direct method to contact and engage with their alumni.
Adults and International Branch Campuses
While the American higher education system faces a great deal of criticism on the home front, an American degree carries a great deal of weight internationally.
Focusing on adult students might provide international branch campuses the enrollments they need to remain viable.
Delivering continuing education programming to adult learners is key to the long-term success of international branch campus success.
Creating Programming for Adult Learners
A program designed with adult learners in mind will help older students succeed in higher education.
The adult higher education market has become a hyper-competitive one, and higher education institutions must design their programs to differentiate themselves from their competitors.
There is no single formula to developing a program to suit the needs of adult students; each institution will have its own approach and its own characteristics.
Designing Programs for Today’s Adult Learners
Adult learners are extremely busy and higher education institutions should aim to ensure that their programming is personalized to their needs.
Creating specialized and innovative programs for adult learners is a way to grow enrollments, if it is done correctly. However, to be successful in this endeavor, institutions must invest the necessary time and resources to maintain and scale these programs.
Attracting Higher Education’s ‘New-Traditional’ Students
Wanting flexibility in programming is not the same as wanting an easy program. Adult learners require their higher education institutions to deliver learning at times and in ways that are convenient for them, so they can live their lives while continuing their higher education.
Continuing education units at big, name-brand universities may have less difficulty in attracting people through name recognition, but they must work very hard to distinguish their product for their prospective students.
Whether you’re appealing to adult students or traditional-age high school graduates, quality education is going to be a major factor in their decision to enroll. However, adult students are far more focused on the career implications of their education than 18-22 year old learners.
Defining Success in Adult Higher Education Marketing
Taking a metric-backed approach has helped the Stanford Center for Professional Development understand the outcomes of their marketing initiatives and their work helps define the goals and viability of future marketing activities.
By implementing robust mechanisms to determine which marketing activities are having the most success, higher education institutions can save money by focusing resources on high-return strategies.
Innovative Methods of Displaying Achievements
Badges provide employers with a significantly more comprehensive idea of what their prospective employees can accomplish than a traditional degree and transcript.
Through the natural capacity to share digital badges through social media and other online tools, higher education institutions will have the opportunity to reach a wider range of students than they otherwise would and show prospective students real-world learning outcomes simultaneously.
ePortfolios provide learners with the opportunity to blend their in-class learning with the experiential, on-the-job learning to give employers, institutions and themselves a much clearer picture of what they are capable of.
Making Higher Education Work For Adults
By accepting credit and work done at prior institutions and through other learning providers, higher education institutions can take a big step toward making colleges and universities work for today’s adult student.
The Bologna Accord provisions make it easier for students to have their qualifications and competencies recognized across Europe, making it easier for individuals to work and study in different places.
Higher education can be a confusing challenge for many adults, especially given the traditional focus on class time for completion. The competency-based model, however, allows a simpler path to a degree by focusing more on what the student knows than how long they have been enrolled.
As the workforce moves in the direction of learning validation over prior credentials—which is the say the focus is more on how you can apply your learning than where and how you learned—competency-based models of higher education are becoming vital for adults who want to progress into, or to the next step of, a career.
Given the critical importance of employee competence in today’s workforce, competency-based models are becoming increasing important for employers, as this approach to higher education ensures that employees both understand the concepts being taught and can apply them in the work world.
Marketing Higher Education to Adults
Successfully marketing to adult students requires a college or university to go beyond simply having resources available. Those resources must be optimized to enhance the student’s experience, and designed in such a way that they felt understood.
While many marketing practices have remained over the years, they have become more effective by being backed by data.
Video is becoming increasingly important for higher education marketing departments, but getting started and being successful can be tricky.
Higher education institutions have a great opportunity to engage prospective, current and past students through various social media channels, but it is important to understand and correctly use those channels in order to be successful.
DEBATE | Do MOOCs Benefit the Higher Education Industry?
While MOOCs do not aim to replace the in-person interactions offered by higher education institutions, they provide students the opportunity to expand their knowledge and pursue their interests without dedicating fixed periods of time to fit a college or university schedule.
While Massive Open Online Courses gain increasing attention and popularity in the higher education world, has anyone stopped to ask what exactly makes this courses more “massive”, “open” or “online” than other online programming geared toward adult learners?
Competing With Edupreneurs for Adult Enrollments
There are a number of different approaches higher education institutions can take to increase and diversify their online offerings, each with its own benefits and drawbacks.
MOOCs have created massive change in the higher education space, but there are a number of hurdles left for them to jump before they can be reasonably accepted as mainstream practice for colleges and universities.
Higher education institutions will not be able to remain competitive in the current or future higher education marketplace without developing and delivering robust online offerings.
Given the number of options that adult students have when selecting a college or university to enroll at for their higher education, public institutions must go above and beyond to ensure adult students understand exactly how enrolling with them is advantageous.
Colleges and universities must understand their students’ diverse needs and expectations in order to properly serve them, and it is evident that adult learners require robust online and distance components to be available in order for their education to work for them.
Focusing on Strengths to Meet Adult Students’ Needs
Instructional designers and programmers face the challenging task of trying to develop academic programming that is both academically rigorous and aligned with current workforce needs. An institution’s flexibility, specifically from non-credit units, is essential to ensuring that colleges and universities can remain flexible in this regard.
In order to successfully compete in the adult higher education market, institutions must focus on their own strengths and ensure they perform well, rather than trying to imitate the strategies of competitors.
Attracting Specific Segments of Adult Students
Labeling a college or university as “Military Friendly” is more than just a marketing plot. It should be a marker that signifies an institution as being culturally in-tune with the distinct lifestyle and needs of active and veteran military students.
Numerous industries are in periods of great flux and change, causing a large number of people to be out of work and even more who are searching for new careers. This new reality in the labor market requires higher education institutions to shape their programming to meet the specific needs of students who are out of work or who are enrolled to find a new job.
DEBATE | Is the Higher Education Marketplace Overcrowded?
Continuing and ongoing education units can grow enrollments without focusing exclusively on marketing by focusing on their particular highest-return relationships.
Despite the emergence of poorer-quality institutions with the growth of the higher education industry, the competition means that most institutions are improving their quality and efficiency while the market will correct and “shake out” the lesser institutions.
In the pursuit of more students in this hypercompetitive marketplace, higher education institutions are committing their resources toward the most popular programs they offer, meaning they are cutting loose programs that may not be financially sustainable but serve an important social good mission.