Technology and globalization have disrupted our economy. American workers have been displaced, replaced, outsourced and made obsolete by technological innovations across each and every industry. Jobs in today’s economy require that workers acquire new skills and training. When workers have skill sets that are NOT in line with those that are needed, the result is called “Structural Unemployment.”
Given this background, it is perhaps not so surprising that many workers are going back to, or enrolling for the first time in, college. What, in fact, may be surprising is that fully 40% of all college students today are aged 25+! With an estimated 20 million college students currently enrolled, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, that means that there are 8 million older, non-traditional students today. And that number will surely grow as current economic trends continue, and the number of students feeding into the 18-22 cohort continues to dwindle.
With the rise in older students enrolling into college, many of the Davis clients in the field of higher education are wondering what they can do to recruit more of these non-traditional students.
Traditional Students vs. Non-Traditional Students
Marketing to and recruiting non-traditional students is very different than for your traditional college students. Whereas traditional college students tend to be free from many of life’s responsibilities, non-traditional students typically have full-time jobs, families and financial obligations. For this reason, colleges need to use a different set of tools in order to attract students in this demographic.
Whenever a person needs to learn something, it’s always smart to pay attention to those who have already mastered the process. Washington Monthly recently put together a few reports that showed off the best 4-year colleges for older students and the best 2-year colleges for older students. The schools were ranked upon some of the following factors:
Ease of transfer
Many of these institutions allow enrollment without standardized testing. They also allow a wide variety of credits to transfer from other institutions. They also offer orientations and counseling to non-traditional students, so the transition is easier for them.
Flexibility of programs
Since non-traditional students have jobs, families and other responsibilities, flexibility is of the utmost importance. Institutions need to be flexible in their course catalog, offer evening classes, weekend classes and/or online classes and programs. The programs also should be relevant, and teach modern job skills that are in demand with today’s economy.
Services for adults
Many older students have children of their own, so it stands that they quite possibly would need someone to watch over them while they’re in class. Many of these institutions in the Washington Monthly list are offering on-campus day care services– and some of them even include the service within their fees. They also offer workshops, counseling, job placement and other resources that are tailored to the needs of non-traditional students.
Tuition, fees and loan repayment
It doesn’t look like higher education is going to become free of charge anytime soon, so people still need ways to make college affordable. These colleges and universities offer competitive tuition, low fees and diverse financial aid resources.
Since many non-traditional students are veterans, it’s very important these institutions have programs geared towards service members. These include all of the above factors, but they also include strong relationships with the local Veterans Affairs offices and offering VA benefits.
Marketing and recruitment practices for non-traditional students
If your institute of higher education is not offering these kinds of amenities to older students, the first thing you need to do, is change that. With more than one-third of college students being “non-traditional,” your institution has to adapt to the changing times. This is even truer today since the number of non-traditional students is projected to rise, year over year.
Your institution needs to illuminate your unique benefits within all of your marketing materials. These benefits should be showcased in your blog, collateral, web pages, brochures, information sessions, open houses, PR, etc. If potential students don’t know about everything that you have to offer, you might as well not be offering it at all.
Consider putting some research together and take a look at how your current students understand all of the amenities that you offer. Make sure that your existing channels are already doing an adequate job of educating current students on all the benefits that your institution has. You just might be surprised at how many, or how few, really know.
Creating powerful marketing campaigns that are targeted towards non-traditional students is harder than targeting traditional students. These folks are often more discerning and have more life experience when considering their options.
Advertising channels such as paid search, social media and native advertising are all great, but the message must be consistent across all channels. For this reason, you might even consider target marketing by running multiple campaigns based upon different kinds of non-traditional students. For example, a recently discharged veteran will need a different message than a single mother going back to school. Before going to work with your next campaigns, having a clear strategy and system in place will save you from wasting money.
Research on attracting non-traditional students
According to research published by Ruffalo Noel Levitz, there were a few strategies that higher education institutions successfully used to attract non-traditional students. Here is what their research found:
Open houses, website “request information” forms and webinar information sessions were the most effective ways to generate inquiries from non-traditional students. Evening and online classes were widely used course formats for attracting non-traditional students across sectors. Also popular were cohort-based classes, once-weekly classes, a blend of online and on-campus coursework. For following up with non-traditional student inquiries, phone call attempts and personalized emails were the most widely-used practices across sectors.
All things being equal, non-traditional students want an education that is flexible, convenient and cost-effective for them. Your institution needs to demonstrate its ability to meet the needs of these non-traditional students; but most importantly, your institution needs to follow through with the promises that it makes to prospective students, regardless of whether or not they’re traditional or non-traditional students.
The fall semester may have already started, but now is the perfect time to start preparing for Spring 2016. Higher Education is but one of our industries of expertise here at Davis Advertising.
Download our white paper by filling out the form below. We’ll then schedule a time to sit down and work out a winning strategy that benefits both you and your prospective students.