Why the status quo won’t work for engaging the Nontraditional Student

Posted by Larry Grey on Feb 4, 2020 4:17:43 PM

In our prior bog entry, we defined the nontraditional student and described the impact they will have on the Higher Education Industry going forward.  Now that you’re ready to increase enrollment through this demographic.  How do you do it?

Unfortunately, merely expanding your existing marketing efforts and admissions processes won’t work.  This is because most institutions have spent decades refining their message and processes to enroll the “traditional student”

  • They know where to find them – generally in domestic high schools
  • They know what motivates them – to continue their full-time education in preparation for a career
  • They have programs / offerings that are optimized for these goals – 2 or 4 year degrees

The nontraditional student is by definition different than traditional students.

  • They can’t be found in domestic high schools
  • They are often balancing other responsibilities with their education, and are often already working in their career
  • Traditional programs are often insufficient to allow them to meet their goals while balancing other requirements

Because of this, a new way of thinking is required, and this thinking requires organizations to understand each type of student as independent personas.

Example Personas

Let’s start by describing three personas we’ve seen “in the wild”.  These personas are not an exhaustive list, but should hit many of the major aspects and considerations.

  • Older person who wants to complete a 2 or 4 year degree sometime after leaving school.
  • Person who wants to earn a certificate or trade (such as an EMT certificate)
  • Person who wants to keep their skills current as their career progresses

In each of these personas, there are some very important considerations:

  • The candidate is not attending school when enrolling
  • The candidate has schedule commitments that affect how/when he/she can attend class
  • Their academic advisement profle is unique in that (a) they aren’t pursuing a standard 2 or 4 year degree, or (b) they are pursuing a standard degree, but in a different way

Because traditional students are often engaged as part of their high school career, and most high schools have focused on college preparatory curricula, these personas need a different approach.

Common Nontraditional Offerings

After understanding the personas, the next step is to align the institution's offerings with the goals of those personas.  To address this, we’ve seen 3 categories of offerings that schools are providing for nontraditional students:

  • Online Degree
  • Certificate or Trade
  • Individual courses

From these offerings, institutions can also fine tune how they approach candidates through relationships with other organizations:

  • Partnerships between higher education institutions on specific degree programs
  • Partnerships between high schools and institutions on supplementing high school curricula
  • Partnerships with companies for continuing education

A great example of this is Arizona State University’s partnership with Starbucks.

In all of these situations, it is important that the organization’s computer systems and processes support these requirements – and take a page from UX best practices to define what the personas are, what their goals are, and what is the best way to engage them.