Is your institution meeting the expectations of today’s adult students? How do you know?

The needs of adult students have changed dramatically over the past 10 years, and so has the way adults make decisions about the colleges and universities they attend. Now, the selection process usually involves online research via reviews and benchmarks created by today’s top online brands. Of course, it was not always this way.

Once upon a time, it was enough for most institutions to be “flexible.”


What did it mean to be flexible?

The answer to that question depended on the institution. For some, flexibility simply meant offering classroom-based programs in the evening or on weekends. For others, it meant removing the barriers of time and location completely by delivering courses and programs entirely online. Schools also started offering accelerated programs that enabled students to earn specific credentials within a set period of time.


How did the market respond?

Students selected programs based on course formats (traditional vs. online) and their level of comfort with the format. Of course, like today, cost was also a primary factor.

Over time, the market and academia accepted online learning and almost every college and university in the country began to develop some type of online offering. Some were simply online versions of their classroom courses. Others were more complex, featuring professors guiding students through the course as they interacted with each other via online discussions.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the future…


What changed?

The expansion of the internet started to affect our online behavior. We became increasingly dependent on the internet as a service provider and research tool. We also developed a new set of expectations that now govern digital experiences. These evolutions have influenced how we make decisions and buy products and services, including higher education.

Just as important, the first generation of people raised with the ubiquitous presence of home computers and the internet—millennials—entered adulthood and flexed their purchasing muscle. What makes the millennial generation different from Generation X and baby boomers is their early exposure to and mastery of computers, the internet, and gaming. They are the first generation to grow up with the internet as a significant part of their everyday lives.

Today, millennials make up the majority of the adult student market. In addition, Generation Z, the generation coming of age right after millennials, are the next upcoming segment to enter the adult student market. They have never known a world without Google. Consider that for a moment. We will have two segments of the adult market with different expectations and preferences than any generation before them.

So, what are these expectations and preferences? How should colleges and universities align their recruitment efforts in response?

To find out how we addressed these new challenges at Thomas Edison State University, join me at the Stamats Adult Student Marketing Conference on February 7, 2018 in Clearwater, Florida.  There, I’ll share the whole story and explore how we developed a recruitment model that better serves the needs of adult students.


Joe Guzzardo is Associate Vice President for Marketing and Communications at Thomas Edison State University in New Jersey, one of the oldest schools in the country dedicated exclusively to serving adults. He is responsible for all advertising, marketing, media relations, public relations, and communications.

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