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Thinking Differently: 3 Strategies to Increase Adult Learner Enrollment

Matthew Klingbeil

College enrollment has been on the decline for nearly a decade, forcing institutions to look for new markets and sources of revenue and enrollment. As some states have been hit harder than others with these enrollment issues, it is critical for higher education institutions to provide opportunities to a growing and determined market - adult learners.

Recent research from Strada Education Network and Gallup shows that nearly half of Americans think that they need more education to advance their careers and are likely to pursue some type of coursework or training in the next five years. For these prospective adult learners, the three most important factors to pursuing more education are outcomes or career advancement, affordability, and flexibility to have the right courses at the right time.

Adult learners are unique and each prospective student might have a different reason for pursuing further education. For one student, the reason could be to get the promotion that they have been working towards. For another student, it could be to finally return to finish their degree that they put on hold. For yet another prospective student, the reason could be trying to gain more skills on their own timeline while balancing work and family.

The question, then, is how can colleges and universities increase personalized engagement with adult learners? And, how can institutions scale their adult learner enrollment? These aren't easy questions to answer, but there are specific strategies that will help you and your team.

Here are three strategies that will improve engagement with adult learners and increase your institution's enrollment:

1. Create smart, data-driven plans

Is your team using state-of-the-art technology and data science to analyze millions of student engagements layered with your historical enrollment data to create ideal adult learner profiles? If not, it's time to start (👉 here’s a good place to look 👀). This type of data focused strategy will allow you to always target the right students at the right time, ensuring your team maximizes recruitment efforts.

2. Emphasize real experiences and engagement

Once you have your ideal student profiles, it's time to create experiences that fully engage with prospective adult learners. This is a busy market, where prospective students most likely have other commitments. Think about in-person and digital experiences with flexible times. At each experience, clearly showcase what your institution has to offer an adult learner, and be sure to end with a clear call to action to apply or enroll (this can be verbal at the end of the experience or in a post-visit communication).

3. Distinguish your brand

We are constantly being marketed to on social media, on our daily commutes, during our downtime, and everywhere in between. How do you make sure that your brand breaks through the noise? The key is to understand exactly who your market is, what they expect, and to provide the engaging content that distinguishes your brand. Create digital ads that target specific student profiles with program information that will directly benefit them such as the career outcomes they can expect upon degree/program completion, the real cost of enrollment, and class schedules. Once you have your content created, think about the medium that your prospective students are using the most. Is it listening to podcasts, meaning you should think about running ads on specific shows? Are they mainly browsing Facebook? Are particular segments playing Candy Crush more than anything else? No matter the medium, you can hyper-target your prospective students and make sure that your brand is top of mind with relevant content. This is a critical piece of the puzzle to increasing your adult learner enrollment.

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