by Jeremy Tiers, Director of Admissions Services
The Times They Are a-Changin’. Bob Dylan’s legendary song would be an appropriate description if you were asked to summarize the makeup of today’s college student body.
Colleges and Universities still enroll plenty of high school graduates. However, the fastest growing segment of the higher education market is non-traditional students. Roughly 40% of all college students are older than 24, according to U.S. Education Department data.
The thing is, a 32-year old single mom wants something completely different than an 18-year old high achieving student whose most recent dilemma was what to wear to prom. These two demographics have different expectations, different motivations, and different objections.
When advising clients on assembling their recruiting communications for these non-traditional prospects, we emphasize the importance of creating different messaging and using different techniques to secure their commitment.
Let’s start by defining some characteristics that today’s non-traditional student possesses.
- Usually 24 years old and older
- Delays enrollment
- Attends college part-time
- Employed (works 30 hours or more per week while enrolled)
- Has dependents (spouse, children)
- Is a single parent (studies show that women make up 71% of all student parents)
- Mid career professional
- Often looking to advance their career or achieve a personal goal
- Is considered financially independent for purposes of determining eligibility for financial aid
Once you’ve put together a detailed profile of a typical non-traditional student that your institution believes is most likely to succeed at your school, you’re then ready to start marketing to this group.
Let’s take a look at some of the key differences between these two groups. Furthermore, how do you use those differences to your advantage against your competition that is looking to enroll the same non-traditional recruits? Here are three big things we think every admissions office should know:
- Unlike their traditional counterparts, non-traditional prospects don’t rely on their parents’ opinion as they make their decision. Non-traditional students feel they are in charge of their educational career. They are largely independent and more concerned about paying bills on time and making school fit with their work schedule, than whether or not mom and dad approve of a school. What this means for you is that you won’t need to spend the same amount of time recruiting their parents as we recommend for a high school prospect.
- Unlike their traditional counterparts, you’re going to find it much, much harder to get in touch with non-traditional prospects. These students are juggling multiple responsibilities in addition to work. It’s going to be difficult to reach them by phone. What should you do? We have found that creating weekly standing appointments, or ones every other week, is a successful strategy. It goes on their schedule and is much more convenient, which is something they place a premium on. Social media is another easy way to connect with this demographic. They access Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter in many cases more frequently than their traditional counterparts, and research shows they’re generally open to these forms of communication. Use these to show the prospect things your campus offers that will be of benefit to them. Finally, I’ll repeat something that I said earlier. Don’t forget that those increased responsibilities to their families gives non-traditional students more opportunities to procrastinate or be distracted from taking that next step in the admissions process. It’s your responsibility to make them feel wanted, help them connect the dots, and keep them on track.
- Unlike their traditional counterparts, non-traditional prospects won’t be as concerned with your dorms, meal plan or school activities. Moving out of their parent’s home is something that’s difficult for many traditional students. Most will live on campus and thus want comfortable accommodations and a meal plan with some variety. For non-traditional students this isn’t something they generally need or want to have to pay for. They don’t go to college for socialization or fancy dorms, and have their own support systems outside of school. Besides your institution’s academic reputation, here are some things that non-traditional students value greatly. Start with availability of evening, weekend or even distance learning courses. These are a necessity. Your school’s career center is also a valuable tool that you can highlight. Connecting them to someone in the career center early in the process is highly recommended. Lastly the flexibility to complete their degree at their own pace matters significantly. Your messaging should address topics such as these, as well as any other areas that are important to them.
Non-traditional students have also made it clear they’re more likely to use the Internet to gather research on schools, versus scheduling a campus visit. They simply don’t have enough time in their hectic schedule. This means your digital marketing needs to be strong and have a section that clearly defines your non-traditional program offerings as well as things like financial aid. They need to be able to know how they will piece it all together and ultimately fit in on your campus. You must help them connect all the dots.
Even though non-traditional students won’t be attending college in the traditional sense, there is one big similarity between the two groups that an admissions counselor should never forget. Non-traditional students also place a high value on personalized attention prior to enrollment. Personalization at every point of contact – direct mail, online, over the phone, and on campus can make a big difference in persuading a non-traditional student to enroll.
Just remember that if your school is committed to enrolling more non-traditional students, you need to approach them differently than your high school prospects. They are very, very different.
Jeremy and the experts at Tudor Collegiate Strategies can help you develop personalized messaging for all different types of recruits, including non-traditional students. Want to learn how? Email him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org