Every higher education institution—large, small, and mid-sized—needs to stay on top of where the student market is going.
Like it or not, institutions are no longer dictating how higher education is served up to its target market. Because of the buffet of choices that post-traditional students have when choosing how to earn their degree, they can dictate how—and even when—then want to earn credits. Not only that, but the makeup of post-traditional students is shifting from what was once considered the key demographic. In the past, post-traditionals were thought to be primarily adult students seeking a career shift.
But post-traditional students aren’t just single moms, studying late under lamplight or dads who decide they want to finally earn their degree now that their kids are away at college. While career transition is still the #1 motivating factor, we know from recent data compiled by Aslanian Market Research that who was thought to be aged for traditional study make up the total 30% of post-traditional students (19% are 20 or under; 11% are aged 21-24). Not only has the demographic of these students shifted in the last decade, but post-traditional students are starting to dictate the direction of institutions’ offerings.
If you’re not connecting with as many prospective students as expected, have you asked yourself, “Who is today’s post-traditional student?” What do post-traditional students want? How do student preferences factor into where the market is going?
This article will delve into some reasons that your institution may not be connecting with the post-traditional audience.
1. You don’t focus on what matters to them
What is your messaging trying to convey to post-traditional students? Are you talking about how they can potentially transition to a new career, or search for a new position in a specific field? Or that they can potentially maintain their current career and complete coursework around their schedules? In order to effectively speak to post-traditional students, you must first understand who today’s post-traditional students are.
Solution: Your messaging for post-traditional students should be distinct from what you use to engage traditional students coming to you as high school graduates. Focus your messaging for post-traditional students on how earning a degree can potentially lead to a new career or a more advanced position in the same field.
But while you can’t promise career prospects from education, you can highlight that your faculty and curriculum draw from developing, real-world industry knowledge. Also, feature testimonials (especially in video format) from students who have successfully transitioned careers by earning a degree from your institution.
2. Your online courses are too long
In the land of post-traditional students, the 8-week course is the median preferred course among post-traditional students, according to Aslanian Market Research’s findings. Since 40% of these students are employed full-time while studying—and 22% are working part-time—it may be time to reevaluate the length of your current online courses.
Solution: It goes without saying, but consider reconfiguring your curriculum to model a 7-8 week course length. This might mean revamping a program’s whole curriculum, but the payoff may be that you increase that program’s enrollment. Consider this for programs with particularly low enrollment numbers.
3. You take too long to reach out to them
Through whatever means of marketing—banners, emails, word-of-mouth, or print—you have earned a potential student’s attention and interest in your school. A huge mistake that many institutions make is taking too long to follow-up with quality prospects. It’s no recent development that many schools are working with shoestring budgets where there may not be enough staff to call prospective students within 20 minutes of inquiry. But since 49% of undergrads in 2016 (and 57% of grad students) enrolled in the first school that answered their inquiry for information, it’s crucial that you make some type of contact—and fast.
Solution: Look at how students prefer to be contacted and do your best to have your strategies mirror those preferences. Maybe it’s time to seriously consider using a CRM (customer relationship management) tool to prioritize and automate your responses to inquiries. By doing so, the knowledgeable staff would be able to call and speak with students who are ready to enroll—hopefully grabbing that 49% and 57% before they are contacted by another school they are checking out.
For inquiries that are further from enrollment in the funnel, an automated email with a scheduling feature lets students set up a time to speak with a representative from your institution.
Also, don’t rule out affiliate marketing partners if the budget allows for it. Representatives for these services can contact prospective student on your behalf so that questions are answered immediately and hopefully lead to more qualified enrollments.
Get a better grasp on who are the post-traditional students of today in our new ebook, Post-Traditional College Students, Attracting and Serving the New Majority.