Adult Students: Are You Serious or Just Screwing Around?
Apr 13, 2017
Just so we’re all on the same page, let me start off with these two excerpts.
Once a minority, today “non-traditional” students far outnumber the 18-to-22-year-olds who have historically entered college directly from high school.
In business, you want to target an audience has a want and need for your programs and services, and that is increasing in size. If your audience is shrinking, you’re going to have problems growing your business – and you might be better focused on acquisition of competitors vs. acquisition of new customers.
According to a 2010-11 Noel-Levitz report, private colleges spend an average of $2,185 to recruit a new freshman student. They also employ one full-time staff member for every 33 new students. The recruiting cost for a school that enrolls 600 new students is $1.3 million, plus the salary and benefits of another 18 staff. At one of the small schools I worked at, our adult student marketing and recruiting budget was $60,000 and we had one full-time admissions staff. For schools to successfully recruit and retain adult students, they need to dedicate additional human and financial resources.
A great deal has been written about how recruiting and retaining adult students is very different than recruiting and retaining the “traditional” student that comes directly from high school or the local community college, attends full-time and is seeking their first degree.
But what hasn’t been addressed in enough detail is whether or not colleges and universities are investing enough of the right/required resources in order to achieve their enrollment goals for adult/post-traditional students.
As that second excerpt above describes, the bulk of the resources are still focused on the traditional student – which makes sense when you consider that you need to fill those dorm rooms and attract students that can take classes during the day in all those buildings on your campus.
Adult students aren’t going to be staying in your dorms. And they are less likely to be a frequent climber of that new rock wall in the student rec center.
They do care about that parking lot you just started to tear up in order to build yet another building that they probably won’t get inside.
Characteristics of Institution’s That Are Kidding Themselves
Since we’re all over 18 – let’s be very honest. If you’re setting aside $60K and one FTE to handle your adult/graduate enrollments, you’re not being very serious about succeeding.
And if that’s all you’re willing or able to invest, we might be able to help you but you’re not going to be suddenly seeing hundreds of adult enrollments next term.
So here is a list of characteristics shared by college and university leaders that might be saying adult student enrollment growth is key to institutional success, but are falling far short of helping to make that vision a reality.
No Owner. Lots of “Owners”
Unlike your undergraduate recruitment and enrollment efforts, your adult student recruitment and enrollment efforts are not the responsibility of one person – they are program directors and deans trying to generate enrollments, when they have the time, for their own program or two.
Here’s the issue – enrollments are #1 on their plate and now you have lots of individuals occasionally going to the President in order to ask for resources they think they need. And that feeds right into…
Decentralized and Lacking Relevant Experience
Having experience in higher education does not mean you have marketing experience in a highly competitive marketplace. And trying to succeed on your own, as a small little department or program is stacking the deck against you.
A Focus on Shaping Rather Than Growing
When it’s your program, there is a tendency to selecting the best applicants and maintaining the same number of enrollments rather than growing the enrollments and watching the benefits that can arise from a more diverse student population and higher revenues.
Ignoring Inquiries, Focusing on Applicants
Imagine someone takes the time to reach out to you and express interest in something you’re passionate about – and now imagine that you ignore them. Crazy isn’t it!? Yet we’ve encountered dozens of program directors and deans that ignore prospective students until the start the application process.
Question – can you imagine the quality of the student and number of potential enrollments lost because of this approach?
Lack of Marketing Technology/Processes
Early in my career, I ran sales and marketing for 2 businesses that grew by more than 300% - and we used paper and pen and Rolodexes rather than computers, CRM and Marketing Automation. We did it with solid processes to ensure we captured the right data, followed up with the right information in a timely manner and focused on unique benefits the customer would enjoy.
Today, one of the biggest areas for us is recruitment and retention process assessment and improvement – helping colleges and universities leverage their resources with more efficient processes.
The point here is we work with a lot of institutions targeting adults where a prospective student calls in and no one captures their name or address or phone number or email address. Where large investments in CRM and Marketing Automation are wasted because staff fail to use the technology properly – in some instances, the person that was responsible (and trained) left and in other instances training wasn’t part of the investment in technology due to budget constraints.
You need a process that takes the inquiry to start of application, submission of completed application, acceptance, registration and start of class…with or without tech. You cannot increase enrollments by “doing the best you can at that moment, but remember I have lots of other things to do too!”
No Annual Plan
You need a clearly defined target audience – and that’s much more than “men and women over 25 years of age”. You need to understand your competition so you can differentiate your offerings and experiences in a valuable way. You need a program and service strategy. Pricing and modality strategy. And you need a promotional strategy. You need messaging, offers, media plans and contact strategies. You need goals, objectives, strategies and tactics. You need a process to measure performance so you can analyze results and make informed decisions about what to invest in and what not to invest in.
If you don’t have it written down, you don’t have it.
A Terrible Pricing Strategy
This includes tuition. Additional fees. Scholarship and financial aid. Payment options such as monthly plans with 0% financing. An efficient way to work with employers so that employer tuition reimbursement plans keep the student enrolled rather than forces them to miss the occasional semester/term.
No Retention Plan
Retention starts with targeting your audience, developing your programs and services, setting your pricing and modality strategies…because you want to recruit those that are most likely to flourish while earning their degree. And you want them referring others just like themselves. You want unaided awareness to grow because of the positive word-of-mouth. You want to be “top of mind” with your target audience rather than “…oh yeah, them too”.
Lack of Focus on Innovation, Differentiation
Early in my career, I worked with a for-profit institution that was searching for ways to increase adult enrollments – and their ‘leadership’ explained to me that “…we need an MBA program that’s 18-months because everyone else has one…”
Instead, we did a little research and saw an unmet/under-served opportunity in the market. We developed a MS Leadership program that blew out projected enrollments for the first year and generated $1M more in tuition revenue that was forecast for the “Me too 18-month MBA”.
The Most Important Resources You Need to Increase Adult Enrollments – It’s Not Money, Technology or People
You want to increase adult enrollments? You want to know what’s more important to achieving that goal that money or technology or staff?
It’s an understanding of your target audience, your competition, your market and your own capabilities. With that you can develop unique, valuable offerings that your audience wants and needs but can’t get anywhere else. And you will create the processes and the culture necessary to consistently deliver unique, valuable experiences to go along with your offerings so that when adults enroll, they realize they have found something special – and they tell others.
Having some extra money, tech and staff can help…but we’ve shown colleges and universities that adult enrollment growth is very achievable without such things.
 Downloaded from http://facultyecommons.com/new-class-non-traditional-students-changing-market-higher-education/ on 4/11/2017.
 Downloaded from http://evolllution.com/opinions/adapting-rise-non-traditional-students-part-2/ on 4/11/2017
Patrick McGraw is VP of Higher Educaton Marketing Services and has more than 25 years experience in market research, competitive intelligence, business intelligence including database marketing and CRM, strategic planning, brand development and management as well as operations/campaign management. His work has consistently helped his clients and employers develop and implement more efficient ways to attract and retain profitable customers, enter new markets and launch new products. His areas of focus include the education, hospitality, travel and tourism, hi-tech, telecommunications, financial services, and retail industries on both the agency and customer sides.