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The new higher ed students and how to reach them

5 min read
February 24, 2020

college student reading

Your higher education institution’s marketing strategy is ahead of the game if you and your staff have realized that the stereotypical perception of college students—that the majority are 18- to 21-year-olds full-time students in it for the joy of learning—is dead wrong. Research shows that most students at your institution are already working, a little (or a lot) older, sometimes with young kids, and also very much career-focused.

According to Lumina Foundation, the number of higher education students who are over 25 (38%) and the number who attend school or classes part-time (40%) is solidly on the rise. In fact, 85% of today’s higher ed students have paid jobs while they attend college.

In addition, many of today’s students are also parents, working at least 20 hours a week, and are dealing with trying to support themselves and their families, the majority of them without any other financial assistance.

The heartening part is they want to go to school, to advance their career or start a different one. According to the Strada-Gallup Education Consumer Survey (2018), “work outcomes” are the main reason most people—across all higher education pathways and demographic subgroups—choose higher education. They are goal-oriented, and institutions are responding with more flexible and creative ways to lure and assure these students that they will graduate with the degree, training or certificate they need.

So, it’s your job to let them know that you can accommodate their circumstances and needs. And the best ways to reach them, according to MRI-Simmons research, is through a combination of advertising platforms, led by online, audio/radio, and outdoor. MRI defines this target, “Adult Learners,” as “Adults 25-54 who are very likely to start/return to school in the next 12 months.” Knowing how to reach them can help you increase enrollment in this coveted segment.

Advertise, and they will come

Who ISN’T online? We know that millions and millions of people, kids, teens, and adults alike, are living more and more of their lives via devices, apps, and so on. So meet them where they are. Paid social – for this demographic, stick with Facebook and LinkedIn, suggests MRI – has shown to be effective, as have paid search, geofencing, and retargeting from search results and website visits.

Meeting potential students here could bolster interest in online programs, as well as in the tailored schedules like evening and weekend courses that are increasingly popular. Many institutes are also offering certificate options that allow early- or mid-career students to capitalize on the experience they may already have.

Adults still listen to the radio, and adding on subscription, streaming and internet audio services, and apps will broaden your reach. Emphasizing “Competency-Based Education” (CBE) – which allows students to apply their work and life experience to their education – can be a good strategy to get those ears listening and fingers searching. According to the Brookings Institution, these programs tend to be “less expensive, self-paced, and more career-oriented.”

Bring it home with outdoor

Don’t underestimate the value of good outdoor collateral. Billboards and environmental iterations supporting your campaign can have a strong impact, as these adults are driving to and from work, taking their kids to school and activities, and shopping at the mall.

The fact is that higher ed marketing efforts must communicate that the institution or program will work to help today’s higher ed student – in smart and appropriate ways. To see how you might be able to ramp up your communications—and your enrollment—contact us today.

Written by Jana Eisenberg

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