Hey Bob, it's Eric.

Hey Bob, it’s Eric.

Bob Sevier and I probably know too much about each other after arguing about higher education marketing for almost 30 years. With a little help from iTunes, here’s your chance to listen in on our higher ed marketing meanderings.

We’re planning to post new conversations every couple of weeks in 2016, so subscribe and hold on. This should be fun.

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Episode 6: Someone with Adult Responsibilities

Eric and Bob discuss the changing market of adult students and post-traditional learners. They talk about the difficult task of recruiting an adult student, but more importantly keeping that student happy, succeeding, and ultimately holding a degree.

Here’s a graphic mentioned by Bob during this episode from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

America as 100 College Students
About the author
  1. I define adults as “anyone with less than a BA and at least one year removed from formal education.”

    Let’s acknowledge that for someone 20 years old, working or not, with no school/training beyond high school, things are about to Get Real. They already have, really, even if Mom/Dad hasn’t given them a timetable or ultimatum yet. And for many, their concerns resemble those of a 30 year old more than they do the traditional, direct-from-high school student.

    Why wait until some arbitrary age to treat them like grown ups? They respond well, in my experience, to the same talking points as people twice their age: let’s find your values-aptitudes-prospects balance, let’s be intentional about managing costs and time, etc.

    Waiting until, say, age 24 to engage someone as an adult is in some ways logical. Biology tells us brains aren’t done cooking until about then, for example. But 4-5 years can be 10% of someone’s working career. Wait to engage them, and the opportunity cost of those years escalates, and, like compound interest, they miss out on the long-term benefits.

  2. Kelley Taptich

    In your previous description that the Adult Student is one with responsibilities, is spot on to the fact that they are young adults that due to life circumstances have a larger amount of responsibilities, whether it be working full-time, raising a family, caring for an ailing parent, etc. and school is not a priority to them. In recruiting these individuals they have to see the benefit to them and why your college would be the choice that best suits their lifestyle, their interests and needs at that time. They desire flexibility, convenience, less investment of time and money and will ultimately choose the college that offers them the best “deal”.

  3. Shane Rhudy

    There are several ways to define an adult student, but just because someone has many responsibilities doesn’t justify them begin an adult. I have seen teenagers with more responsibility than some adults. We classify adult learners for those that work full-time, steady income, needing a degree within a 1 to 2 year gap because of advancement and pressure that they receive from their company. We have to listen to these prospective students differently because of their needs and commands. Adult learners have more of a response towards their “end game”. They know exactly what they want and how to accomplish it, if you’re the university or not, they will know after one phone call.

  4. Adult learning theory calls for faculty to teach adult students by helping them connect course content to life experiences. In doing so, learning can be faster and more meaningful. Common adult experiences, such as buying a house, getting married, having a baby, purchasing a car, and working in a career allow fellow students to find common ground in the learning process. While age is not the only determining factory, there is a higher likelihood that older students have experienced more of life than a traditional undergrad. I understand that some 21 year old students have seen more of life than many older students, so I try to look at the range of experiences of each student. For those students who are more “traditional”, the adult teaching approach may not be effective, because they may need a more theoretical approach rather than application. The key is to assess the learning style of each student to determine appropriate categories.

  5. Bill Fritz

    Penn State defines an adult learner as a student who is:
    • 24 years of age or older; or,
    • a veteran or actively serving member of the armed services; or,
    • returning to school after four or more years of employment, homemaking, or other activity; or,
    • assuming multiple adult roles, such as parent, spouse/partner, employee.

  6. Thanks, Bob and Eric, for opening the door wider on this conversation. I really think are a number of things at play, but I’ll boil it down to three points – 1) adult education (by definition) 2) non-traditional students and 3) social justice and inclusion. Don’t worry, I won’t write a thesis here. I think #1 and #2 are tied together so closely, we are going to have a difficult time untangling the knot that was created.

    Labeling any student as “non-traditional” was perhaps the worst thing we ever did in education, in my opinion. Marketing folks (me included) quickly had buckets of traditional, non-traditional, transfer, and graduate. In reality, we know that’s not how it works.

    We also need to be clear that when marketers say “adult students” we don’t necessarily mean it in terms of “adult education” (historically-speaking). I’m with Bob that adult students are students with adult responsibilities; however, I wouldn’t necessarily label them as adult learners.

    Which leads me to social justice and inclusion and an important point that Bob and Eric touched on – students as individuals. This is a much broader conversation than marketing for higher education, but it certainly has its implications for marketing. As education at all levels becomes more personalized, we are more able to respond to students as individuals – to meet them where they are, literally and figuratively.

  7. Loving this conversation! Thanks for your very astute observations.

  8. Judson Curry

    I think that moving our working vocabulary away from “adult students” and “nontraditional students” and toward “post-traditional learners” may be most helpful here: https://www.acenet.edu/news-room/Documents/Post-Traditional-Learners.pdf. “Nontraditional” defines someone by what they are not, rarely a useful strategy. “Adult student” carries with it a host of connotations and may or may not be a desirable label or category for some of the prospective students with which we seek to engage.

    • Nick Ludwig

      Judson, I’m looking forward to reading this paper from ACE. More food for thought. Thank you for sharing!

  9. From my perspective as, not only being a graduate recruiter, but also the Program Coordinator for my graduate program, my leads are in two categories: those students who are currently in college (traditional) and those who are, typically five or more years post-undergrad AND are current practitioners in the field of Criminal Justice or Military.

  10. At our private, non-profit, four-year institution, we define “adult students” as those who are age 24 or older. Historically speaking, it has to do with the age that one is considered “independent” in terms of filing a FAFSA. However, anyone under 24 that seeks admission to an “adult degree-completion program”, may be considered based on personal circumstances such as working fulltime, being a single parent, having to provide elder care for one or more parents. being a military veteran, and other characteristics that would preclude them from being able to participate in the “traditional college experience”.

  11. Amanda Slaughter

    Let us take a moment to reflect on why so many institutions and leaders have different definitions. I think Judson is on to something by saying that “non-traditional” is defining someone by what they are not. If age determines this status, what about the 26 year old student who does not work and lives with his parents? Or what about the 17 year old who goes to school at night but takes care of his siblings during the day while his mom is at work? I’m inclined to believe that the demographics and makeup of higher education has changed so much that we must think less about defining an “adult student” and instead re-define a traditional student. Perhaps a traditional student is someone who has no gap in formal education, lives on campus, works only on campus, and has parents who contribute financially to their education. In this case, everyone who sits outside that criteria is just “normal”.

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