2022 SACRAO Conference highlights the nontraditional student

It’s a wrap. We just finished our first event of 2022 – the SACRAO conference in Little Rock, AR. 

Over the course of the week, we had the opportunity to introduce our perspective on engaging with the non-traditional student population, had many great conversations with colleagues, and sat in on presentations by leading higher education institutions.  Here are some of the key takeaways from the conference: 

The higher education industry is in the midst of significant change 

“The non-traditional student population is increasing, and more generational groups are represented in school staff, faculty, and student bodies. Millennials and Generation Z have begun to outnumber Generation X and Baby Boomers, and their work habits are dramatically different.” - Generational Differences: The Changing Face of Higher Education 


The “enrollment cliff” of traditional college students is approaching. According to National Clearinghouse, the Fall 2021 enrollment cycle saw a decline of 3.8% in enrollment at 4-year institutions and an 11.1% decline at community colleges. And while the impending decline of traditional students is well-known throughout the industry, the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the decline. Due to a myriad of factors, institutions are engaging with new populations of students to meet enrollment goals. Now more than ever before we are seeing more generational representation attending college from baby boomers to Gen-Z. 

Institutions are building strategies to reach Non-traditional student populations  

“Effective communication with non-traditional students needs to be multi-modality. While outreach via email and phone are still a necessity, institutions must shift their focus to include SMS/text outreach as an effective means of communicating with students.” - New Age of Communication with Non-Traditional Students 


While the recruitment of traditional first-year and transfer students remains at the forefront of many strategic enrollment plans, institutions are implementing strategies and tactics to reach non-traditional populations. According to the American Council on Education, non-traditional students (post-traditional learners) are “students who frequently must balance life, work, and their education. These students are typically ages 25 and older, care for dependents, and work full time while enrolled, and are often connected to the military.” 

This means that recruiting these students cannot be accomplished in the same way as an individual graduating from high school. Institutions are implementing programmatic changes such as offering more online degree options, adding new technologies to increase inclusivity and reduce barriers for all student types, and developing thoughtful communication plans that meets students on their time in the modality they are most comfortable.

Keys to Success: Customization and Personalization 

“With enrollment trending down for many schools over the past two years, many (universities) are providing more flexible learning options and are ramping up personalized communication to attract and retain new students.” - 2-Year Admissions Roundtable 


We live in a world where customization and personalization are available to us from suggested YouTube videos to mobile app experiences that identify products we may like (Amazon, Netflix, Yelp, etc.). As consumers, we have come to expect a degree of individualized engagement — and the higher education industry is no different. Enrollment marketers and admissions teams are digging into their enrollment data to develop unique personas to understand and engage with a variety of students. Communication plans are more robust and consider the best content, modality, timing, and volume to effectively reach these different personas. The institutions that spend the time and effort developing their enrollment marketing and recruitment plans in this personalized manner will undoubtedly develop stronger enrollment funnels, improved yield, and affinity to the university overall.

Where do we go from here?  

Based on the overall theme of the conference, institutions who are proactive in their strategy to reach new or under-leveraged markets will have a greater chance of success when it comes to new enrollment and retention of students. Those institutions who choose to do things as they have always done will see declines in applications and enrollment. The need for leveraging technologies to meet students at the right place and time with the right channel will be necessary to remain competitive and reach enrollment goals. 

Non-traditional students are the next wave of growth in higher education. Are your admissions processes ready for it? 

Our team was excited to present on the top of non-traditional students. And judging from the turnout at our presentation and the number of other presentations focused on related topics, institutions are aware of the need to identify and serve new markets of students. Understanding that institutions are facing enrollment decline and increased competition, our presentation focused on the development of strategies and tactics for effectively engaging non-traditional applicants to improve down-funnel yield. By implementing a highly engaging and customizable experience tailored to each non-traditional persona, admissions teams will be able to serve students more effectively and meet even the most challenging enrollment goals. 

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