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Simple Strategies to Recruit Nontraditional Students


As competition for students increases, colleges and universities are implementing new strategies to attract potentially overlooked prospective students such as adult learners. Reaching these types of students, however, doesn’t have to be difficult. Here are simple strategies colleges and universities can use to boost their nontraditional student enrollment.

Get Out There

Reaching adult learners can be challenging. Unlike high school prospects, there aren’t regularly scheduled events such as education fairs they might be forced to attend. This is why it’s important to build inroads with the community.

There are several places where you can distribute educational information about your programs and schools, including community centers, temporary-employment agencies, job fairs, and business organizations such as chambers of commerces.

Emphasize Critical Thinking

One of the most important skills in the 21st century is critical thinking, and one way to recruit adult learners is by emphasizing how students will grow in this area by attending your school.

Chris Birchak, dean of University of Houston-Downtown, said schools can use concrete examples of the types of experiences students might have that will lead to improved critical thinking. As an example, Birchak said many colleges use community engagement as an instructional tool.

“Analyzing a community issue from different perspectives, evaluating these differing views, synthesizing them, and proposing innovative solutions deepens the student’s learning experience,” she said. “Such experiences reinforce the relationship between the classroom curriculum and real-world situations.”

Be Targeted

To better reach and engage adult learners, you’ll need to develop specific content that answers nontraditional students’ questions. Penn State offers an example of what this type of content might look like. Of course, this type of content is only the tip of the iceberg. Some schools such as Belhaven University and Iowa State University have created dedicated blogs geared to nontraditional students.

“Adult learners need someone who looks like them, and the language needs to be modified for recruitment pieces to appeal to adult learners,” said Ginny Boyum, dean at Rochester Community and Technical College.

Follow Up with Past Applicants

Life can change dramatically for adult learners in a short time. They might rethink career paths, or double down on researching schools and programs. Reach out to potential students who applied to your school within the last year and ask if they’d like to know more about your school and program. This could be a monthly or quarterly campaign.

Training and Career Development
When recruiting and enrolling nontraditional students, it is critical that institutions develop an extensive training and career development plan for enrollment counselors.

“Enrollment counselors are often the first person a prospective student speaks with at your university, and the unique relationships they develop with your prospective students is often a factor in the student’s decision to enroll,” said Chris McNamee, vice president of marketing for Hobsons EMS. “Providing frequent training on effective conversations, your programs, and university policies and procedures allows enrollment counselors to provide relevant information quickly to students and helps them assist students with navigating the obstacles to enrollment.”

Invest in Careers
Colleges and universities should also consider focusing on their enrollment counselors to boost recruitment. McNamee said that a clear and measurable career progression model can motivate enrollment counselors to perform at peak levels.

“As your enrollment counselors achieve periodic performance goals, it is important to provide recognition that encourages exceptional performance,” she said. “The performance metrics used to measure performance should be clearly communicated with each counselor on a consistent basis so they are knowledgeable about which levels need to be achieved for career advancement.”

Cultivate Adult Learner Evangelists

Adult learners might not be exactly like traditional students, but there are some things that are common across the board. Prospective students want to meet people who are going through or have gone through similar experiences. In this case, you’ll want to build relationships with current and former students who can positively articulate the benefits of your school. These students can write blog posts, but they might also meet with students for coffee to discuss their experience, or speak to them over the phone. A good place to start your search for evangelists is through your alumni association.

Ask Current Adult Students to Bring a Friend to Their Class

Again, this is something that can be done for both traditional and nontraditional students. The goal is to provide prospective students with a taste of what it’s like to be a part of a program, and help them envision themselves joining your community. You might consider setting up an entire campaign around this concept, marketing a single week or day as the best time for students to bring their friends to the campus.

Offer One-Day Skill Courses

One-day skills courses are valuable across the board. They can provide an example of the types of lessons students might receive, as well as build community relationships. The types of courses you can organizer are numerous and varied: For example, a resume writing course and tips for job interviewing might work well to attract adult learners interested in starting or changing careers. Lectures about current issues in the news can attract interested adults learners, as well.

Refine Your Social Media Strategy

In the past, we’ve talked about how schools can tailor their social media to target specific segments. The same is true for nontraditional students. Create dedicated social media channels that highlight the benefits of your school or a specific program. You might also consider highlighting growing career fields that prospective adult learners might want to know more about.

Streamline Communication

During the regular hustle and bustle of the admissions cycle, it can be easy to overlook the volume and type of communication you’re sending prospective students. By taking time to review your entire communication flow, you’ll be able to track the messages you are sending students, and eliminate redundancy or communications that no longer match your brand values. When you do this, you’ll be able to easily track your students buyer’s journey from awareness, consideration, to enrollment.

Differentiate Yourself

Specific messages and benefits resonate with adult learners more than traditional students. Typically adult learners are juggling numerous priorities (family and career) while attending school. Make sure you clearly highlight flexible course scheduling and various types of course delivery, such as online and hybrid.

Find out how YouVisit boosts yield and enrollment. Learn more about our virtual campus tour solutions.

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