Meeting the Needs of the Newtraditional Student

The frank Agency Branding
Winter 2018

The Great Recession of 2008 changed a lot of things for Americans. But even as the economy struggled, in true American fashion many individuals pressed forward with the belief that we can change our circumstances if we’re willing to work hard and adapt with the times.

During the fallout of this economic crisis, thousands of adults flocked to higher education institutions to restart their careers and give the economy a chance to stabilize before they rejoined the job force. For the first time, adult learners made up around 40% of college students, and this percentage remained fairly consistent even as the economy recovered.

We’ve now reached a point where we see a new “traditional” student population – one that is, essentially, an older and more diverse body, and one that will require new approaches to reach them effectively.

The Newtraditional Learner

statisticsIn 2016, students over the age of 25 made up 40% of the student body, so it’s clear that institutions are still enrolling high numbers of adult learners. But age isn’t the only difference in the “newtraditional” student body.

Women have outnumbered men in college settings since the 1980s, but now the margin is wider than ever. Women hold a high majority, at around 11.7 million enrolled compared to only 8.8 million male students.

Additionally, in 2014, almost 45% of all college enrollees were minorities. We’re rapidly seeing a more diverse and unique student population, and one that won’t settle for being pigeonholed into categories such as “traditional” or “nontraditional.”

Beyond the Numbers

Implicit in the demographic shift is a shift in student needs.

The newtraditional student base requires more flexibility, as they often have families and jobs to work around. Additionally, they look for different programs than their younger counterparts; rather than more generalized liberal arts degrees, they are more inclined to look at paths of study that will further their career or provide more financial security.

The “old traditional” 18-24 year old college student is still as much in the picture as ever, but even their goals are much more closely aligned with the newtraditional mindset that looks at college as a route to a career and wants a schedule that revolves around other activities. So we can see that beyond just a demographic shift, the overall outlook on school and careers has changed over to a newtraditional view.

It seems that it’s time to appeal not just to age and demographic groups, but to this new outlook as well.

The New Normal

In an age where individuals expect convenience and immediacy, the best way institutions can accommodate their newtraditional student base is by creating a school atmosphere that works around the lives of students – not the other way around.

This will translate into providing flexible classes (whether online, hybrid, evening, or a combination) with degree paths and certifications in burgeoning industries where more job opportunities can be found.

But, in addition to changing courses for the institution itself, schools can also appeal to newtraditionals through how they communicate – again, centered around meeting the students where they are. Despite the multitude of channels available now for schools to communicate with prospects, many institutions still resort mainly to email and direct mail. Yet, surveys increasingly show that students are performing their own research through social media, and 59% of prospects visit college sites on their mobile devices (Chegg). With the vast amount of messages bombarding students daily, it’s critical for schools to cut through the clutter and be seen on as many platforms as possible.

Newtraditional prospects are often busy multitaskers, so advanced mobile strategies are critical for reaching this group. Intuitive mobile apps and push notifications can keep your institution top-ofmind, while paving the way for easy engagement with the student.

Your messaging should follow the same studentcentric approach through targeting that is tailored to personas and designed to reach specific segments of prospects.

Beyond just reaching these newtraditionals, however, your institution should also develop plans to help these students succeed.

Giving Value, Gaining Value

beyond-simply-reachingNewtraditional students often have a difficult path to tread. Many have families or work full-time, with innumerable other responsibilities weighing on them. So it’s no surprise that this segment can be particularly hard to retain.

However, it’s also well known that the students with high retention rates offer the best overall lifetime value for the school, so it’s in the best interest of institutions to make efforts to retain their students.

Another way to say this would be: You made a marketing investment to enroll the student; why wouldn’t you seek a return on that investment by ensuring their success?

Many schools have implemented data-driven targeting and retention programs to enroll students who have a high probability of completion and then assist these students in their schooling so there’s less chance of dropout. Through predictive modeling and data analysis, schools can not only see a higher return on investment, but also create an environment that’s dedicated to student success, both throughout their schooling and into their careers.

Reshaping the Culture

ensure-your-student-successWith the drastic culture and demographic shifts that have occurred over the last decade, it’s unlikely that the higher education landscape will ever be the same again. Yet, with these changes has also come opportunity for institutions to adapt their strategies, embrace the future ahead of them, and create a system that provides more accessible education for individuals of all types. In this way, schools themselves will soon reflect this newtraditional student body – marked by uniqueness rather than uniformity.

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