Adults are quickly taking over a larger and larger part of the student population at colleges and universities–and understanding adult learners is key to institutional success.

The idea of the “traditional student,” who graduates high school and enrolls in a university, graduating in four years, is transforming. The majority of today’s learners are adult learners–those juggling school with work or family responsibilities, or those seeking new skills or a complete career change.

Many institutions are focusing on adult learner programs to help boost their growth and revenue as enrollment projections decline.

But that’s easier said than done–the adult learner market isn’t as straightforward, leading institutions to work hard to better understand adult learners, their mindsets, and their unique needs.

Related: How to reach adult students online

Major findings about understanding adult learners

A new report from EAB takes a look at how adult learners are changing the higher-ed marketplace. Key to institutional success is understanding adult learners and their needs.

1. Adult learners need a clear return on their education. Students want proof that their educational investment will result in a “substantial, positive impact on their lifestyle.”

Top considerations for adult learners

2. Adult learners are digital consumers–with high expectations. As advanced consumer analytics and smartphones have evolved, understanding adult learners’ expectations for brand interactions has become even more important. When researching and applying to schools, they expect to be able to use digital tools quickly and easily to find relevant information and complete tasks.

3. Adult learners are extremely pragmatic. Adult learners are savvy navigators of the application process, approaching it with purpose and focus, strategically limiting the number of steps and amount of time involved.

4. Adult learners require flexible options. To ensure that they can balance school with existing personal and professional obligations, many adult learners are interested in flexible options in program format and schedule, such as online, part-time, and hybrid programs.

Related: Are you reaching the “new normal” student?

Future implications

Once understanding adult learners becomes more clear, it’s important for higher-ed leaders to examine the implications adult learners have on their recruitment strategies.

1. Ensure that marketing effectively articulates return on education
2. Use data to better understand prospects and tailor marketing to their intent
3. Reach students early with awareness campaigns and multichannel marketing
4. Craft messaging that conveys school-life balance

About the Author:

Laura Ascione

Laura Ascione is the Managing Editor, Content Services at eSchool Media. She is a graduate of the University of Maryland's prestigious Philip Merrill College of Journalism. When she isn't wrangling her two children, Laura enjoys running, photography, home improvement, and rooting for the Terps. Find Laura on Twitter: @eSN_Laura http://twitter.com/eSN_Laura


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