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What Adult Students Want

What Adult Students Want
Institutions must step outside the box to understand and meet the particular challenges faced by non-traditional students in order to attract more adult learners.

Do you think of your institution as adult friendly? More importantly, do prospective adult learners view your institution as adult friendly? Institutions that can satisfactorily address several fundamental concerns many adults have will be successful in facilitating their return to higher education. Adult learners’ concerns can largely be summed up in the following questions:

  1. Do you have what I want?
  2. Can I afford it?
  3. Will it be convenient for me to take classes?
  4. Will I be successful?

Let’s take a closer look at these questions. Firstly, do you offer a variety of in-demand programs that adults are seeking? Not surprisingly, community colleges are enjoying an influx of adult students, as they tend to offer a variety of short-term, in-demand programs. If you encounter adults who are unsure of their area of interest, does your institution offer career services designed to help them choose a program?

Secondly, adults frequently cite cost as a primary barrier to higher education. Whether your institution’s annual tuition is $3,000 or $30,000, do adults clearly understand the difference between price and cost? This is to say, the difference between how much an adult student pays for a class, and what that student will not be able to afford as a result. Offering adult student scholarships and providing tuition payment plans can help overcome this barrier.

Let’s presume your institution has addressed the initial two questions to adults’ satisfaction: you have the programs they want and they can afford to enroll in them. Now, let’s examine the question of convenience: is the program offered in a format that is convenient for adult students? Some programs are, by design, rigid and inflexible. Does your institution offer early-morning and late-afternoon classes? Are classes available in the evenings/on weekends? Are classes offered online? Does your institution allow students to combine these different delivery formats? These are important considerations as adult learners often don’t have the luxury of quitting their job and going to school full-time. Additionally, adults often have a sense of urgency regarding their education. An adult-friendly institution may be able to address this concern by offering accelerated classes.

Finally, the “success” factor can be the most challenging for an institution to address. Do you offer services designed to help students succeed? If you offer free tutoring, promote it! Does your institution offer a free writing center or a free mentoring program? It can’t be a “well-kept secret” that you have a computer center where students can print their papers for free.

To ensure adult students have a “soft landing” as they transition to higher education, be proactive and anticipate their concerns, then address those concerns head-on. Remember, it’s not good enough to provide these services if students aren’t aware of them; make all of your information easy to find on your website. An underlying assumption in our discussion is that a college or university website is the single most important recruiting tool in an institution’s arsenal. Meet with your IT and Marketing staff to create easy shortcuts that will make the adult learner’s experience easier.

This is oversimplified, to be sure. But, if your institution can successfully address these fundamental concerns, you’re well on your way to making the return to higher education less challenging for adults, and they will view your institution as adult friendly.

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