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Best Practices Can Elude Colleges Wooing Adult Learners

The field of the adult learner is still fairly new, yet many colleges and universities are turning to that demographic to diversify their revenue streams. However, the most effective practices for wooing that audience into higher education aren't always the ones schools are relying on in their marketing and recruiting efforts. That was the overall finding of a detailed report by education consultancy Ruffalo Noel Levitz. The results came from a survey of 195 schools with programs designed for adult learners.

According to " 2015 Adult Learner Marketing and Recruitment Practices Benchmark Report," for example, webinar information sessions were rated "effective" by half of respondents from private and public, four-year and graduate institutions, but were used by only 35 percent of these institutions. While the use of television ads was rated “minimally effective” by 56 percent of respondents from two-year public institutions, 76 percent still used them widely. While only 40 percent of four-year public institutions found the use of pay-per-click ads on search sites such as Google and Bing effective, 62 percent still used the practice. And 44 percent of private colleges found the use of virtual open houses effective; but only 28.5 percent have used them.

The top six "most effective" practices in generating inquiries from the adult or online learner across all types of institutions encompassed:

  1. Face to face information sessions with 91.5 percent of schools using the practice;
  2. Referral programs (75 percent);
  3. Web site "request information" forms (98 percent);
  4. Free applications (80 percent);
  5. Open houses (77 percent); and
  6. Search engine optimization (SEO) to improve non-paid search engine results (85 percent).

However, none of these was rated that way by a majority of respondents. Multi-channel efforts appeared to be essential in reaching adult learner prospects.

The five most common formats for adult programs were:

  1. Evening classes (with 81 percent of schools using this format);
  2. On campus (76 percent);
  3. Online (75 percent);
  4. Mixed modes (online and face-to-face) (65 percent); and
  5. Cohort-based (60 percent).

At four-year public institutions, online classes dominated (83 percent), followed by evening classes (69 percent). The hybrid approach came in number three at two-year schools (68 percent), exceeded only by evening classes (76 percent) and online courses (72 percent). Private institutions were four times more likely to have class start dates every month (18 percent) than public colleges and universities. The competency-based model has pickup at 9.5 percent of four-year schools, 5 percent of private institutions and showed negligible pickup at two-year public colleges.

The complete report is available with registration on the company's site.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning. She can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @schaffhauser.

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