Published on 2012/11/05

Why Compete for Adult Students?

Continuing Education units must work hard to spearhead their respective university’s efforts in competing for and enrolling adult students.

In an earlier EvoLLLution article (“Student Needs Come First”), I noted the importance of properly determining why new programming through the continuing education (CE) unit was necessary, and what need(s) it would meet beyond the revenue aspect. I suggested that meeting student needs should be at the top of that list. CE administrators understand that the adult population is a large and growing university segment. Adults have a lot of educational needs that provides an opportunity for the CE unit to them help them meet those needs. We need to actively compete for these potential adult students.

Many adults know they need something educationally to help them increase their skills, complete a degree, or be more competitive in their profession. However, they often have difficulty knowing the exact path to follow. A university’s CE unit, with its capacity to extend their institution’s reach, is often best suited to attract those adults and introduce them to a wide variety of educational programs that could meet their needs. Adult students should examine several programs from different universities to assist them to better define their educational needs and professional goals.

In order for this process to occur, the CE unit should actively compete for this demographic group to make its offerings known and visible. This overall process introduces a lot of programs from different universities for adults to see and investigate, such as undergraduate degree completion, nursing, and MBA. This provides information and the opportunity for the adult to respond, take the initiative to learn about the program, and ask questions. They will be better served by having several comparable programs to assess and consider. The more they know and understand, the higher the chance that they will select the best educational program and make a good decision. But without active CE unit competition for visibility from potential adult students, these students might be limited to only those programs within their local area.

CE units’ active competition to attract potential adult students allows them to present the ways in which a particular program can successfully meet the adult’s educational and professional goals. The CE unit will usually compete on the program’s cost, quality, time to completion, reputation, and convenience. Now with the increasing number of online offerings alongside face-to-face ones, the CE unit must also fully compete on a broader range of topics.

Besides understanding adult students’ needs and determining what the most appropriate program for them is, CE units must also address the following questions:

  1. Will previously earned credit hours transfer into the program?
  2. Will life-long experiential learning be accepted for credit?
  3. Is the program online, hybrid, or face-to-face?
  4. Financial assistance: are loans, grants, discounts, waivers, or tuition reimbursement from the employer available?
  5. Are university/CE services available outside of normal business hours?
  6. Does the CE unit/university understand adult student needs as compared to those of 18 – 24 year-old students?

These points of competition are important to successful recruitment of adult students.

There are numerous recent studies that confirm adult college students are the largest and fastest growing demographic group taking college courses and/or matriculated into an undergraduate degree program. CE units understand adults, can meet their educational needs, possess the skills to administer degree programs that focus on adult students, and compete for those students where they are. Within the adult student demographic, military veterans are seeking to complete the appropriate educational program in order to successfully join the civilian workforce. And… they are armed with veteran’s benefits that cover a lot of educational expenses. CE units must also actively compete for them within the adult population.

As CE administrators, we need to actively seek and compete for potential adult students, just as diligently as the traditional undergraduate admissions staff does for graduating high school seniors. We can present the wide variety of courses and programs adults want to enhance their professional careers and in turn provide the necessary support to assure their educational success.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Consolidated Administration: The Key to Delivering a 60-Year Curriculum

Shift the status quo to achieve long-term success and viability for your university.

Read here

Readers Comments

Lee Young 2012/11/05 at 11:04 am

I think it would be in government’s interest to get involved in this effort to help adult students understand the educational options available to them, and to provide some version of guidance or coaching to point them in the right direction.

For state or federal governments to contribute to this effort would address the fast-approaching reality that there are more unqualified Americans with no post-secondary education than there are jobs that don’t demand some kind of post-secondary education. It would be a nice change to see such foresight and long-range investment in the economy from governmental decision-makers.

Ken Udas 2012/11/05 at 1:43 pm

Bill – thank you for this article. My experience suggests that in addition to competing for the attention of adult learners, CE units on traditional (resident-oriented)campuses need to compete for the attention of their colleagues throughout the college or university. Can you share any thoughts about raising awareness regarding the needs (that might not be fully appreciated) of adult learners who choose to study at a distance.


Ravi Narayan 2012/11/05 at 4:53 pm

I think the inclusion of experiential learning, or any Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) policy, is one of the key building blocks for a CE unit to encourage and attract adult students; not only does it encourage them to investigate further education in the first place, it also reduces some of the stigma of not having pursued higher education in the first place, or having to return. It eliminates the “elitism” that is sometimes associated with universities and says, we don’t know better than you.

What you have done in your life is valid and in many ways just as valuable as a college course. Plus, it might cut down on the time and cost an adult learner might need to commit to a program (both huge concerns for adult learners). On the flip side, it helps universities with recruitment and retention, broadens the demographic of students they might appeal to, and streamlines their own institutional costs.


Rosa-Fay Milnar 2012/11/06 at 4:49 pm

I have a rather simple question that may outdate me, but I have offered and taken many courses/workshops that carried CEU units. I have never known what to do with any of them. Some associations such as AMA and ANA require a certain number os CEU hours, but in general do employers recognize these on the scale of professional certification or a degree?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *