The Forgotten 40 Percent

We’ve all seen our fair share of them: college viewbooks filled with glossy images of teens sitting under trees, playing frisbee, gathering in dining halls and dorm rooms. Stories about Greek life and internships at local businesses. All of which makes sense: the typical college student is usually very interested in these parts of campus life.

But for those who aren’t typical students (say, students over 25 years old), these messages might not be all that helpful or effective.

Why does this matter?

Industry data shows that approximately 40 percent of the current college population qualifies as nontraditional*—that is, they might be over 25, or working full-time, or raising kids, or some combination of these. Yet most of the materials colleges use to attract these prospective students fail to align to what’s important to them.

40 percent. That’s a lot of people.

So what are some things adult learners might care about? Here are three things to consider when trying to engage with this group.

Adults are pressed for time

Being an adult means you’re busy—and if children are part of the picture, things get even more real. So for the parent (single or not) who’s thinking about going back to school to gain more skills, flexibility is critical. How does your institution cater to in-career professionals? Are courses offered at times and through channels that work for them?

Location, location, location

When it comes to adult learners, recruit from where you are. These students likely are rooted in their communities, have families, and aren’t really exploring going away to school. Do your materials feel like an introduction to a place they already know? Draw on what’s already familiar to them, and elevate it with strong messages about the benefits of learning at home.

Establishing a painless process

The last thing anyone wants to do once they’ve decided to return to school is track down transcripts from decades ago. If your admissions process is smooth and simple, it can make a huge difference in recruiting adult learners. Are there areas in your process that might be pain points? How can you address them?

As life-long learning initiatives become a trend in higher education, and as professionals look to beef up their academic credentials, colleges who know how to engage with adult learners will be positioned for success. Speaking to the needs of these students and acknowledging their lifestyles is a great place to start.

*Source: Robot-Proof: Higher Education in the Age of Artificial Intelligence, Joseph E. Aoun.