Six Common Mistakes Institutions Make in Trying to Enroll Working Adult Students
(And How to Avoid Them)

Retailoring your programs to meet adult student needs is only the first step. To ensure those online courses and evening classes are filled, avoiding these enrollment mistakes is critical.

The competition to enroll adult students has never been more fierce. As more institutions see their traditional student enrollment plateau or decline, higher ed leaders are racing to attract older learners.   


These numbers are only expected to climb in the coming years.

Some institutions are thriving amid this demographic shift, but others have been slow to adapt. The pitfalls of a traditional approach assume that every applicant has several months to wait for a decision, that they have time to sift through piles of snail mail information packets and that they have ready access to high school transcripts.

Adult learners are looking for a (much) faster, more personalized and actionable way to learn about their options — one that acknowledges their busy lives and competing commitments. They want to see that they can acquire credentials quickly, conveniently and affordably — but they need the flexibility and support required to balance school, work and family with their academic goals.

Most institutions aren’t just turning the chart upside down or burying their heads in the sand — they make efforts to approach adult students on their own terms. Here are a few common mistakes that have come up in our research and work with institutions as they address the needs and motivations of non-traditional learners.


Making them wait for a response

When a prospective adult student indicates interest in enrolling, they expect an immediate response. From online banking to auto insurance quotes, instantaneous response is the expectation of the Internet generation. Leading adult and online programs have response times measured in hours and enrollment processes measured in days.

The most successful programs leverage the full spectrum of communication tools — not just emails and phone calls, but also text messaging, social media, video chats and mobile apps — to communicate with prospects.


Avoiding a data-driven approach to prospective student engagement

“We’ve always done it that way,” just doesn’t cut it anymore.

Do you have rich data showing which communication modalities, messaging, and frequency of interaction are most effective in engaging your prospective adult students? Using customer relationship management software (CRM) to track and analyze prospective student communications — from inquiry through enrollment — is critical to fixing a leaky bucket of prospects. Monitoring the prospective student through their entire enrollment lifecycle enables you to identify trends, tweak your engagement processes, and constantly improve results.


Overcomplicating the prospective student enrollment experience

If prospective students are forced to navigate their way through multiple departments to compare programs and get answers to tuition/registration questions, they will feel like they’re in a maze. Conversion rates for mazes are not great.

To the extent possible, responses to inquiries should include sufficient information for the student to:

  • Evaluate the program(s)
  • Understand admissions requirements
  • Navigate the application process
  • Comprehend the associated financial and personal commitments involved

Coordinating Advising, Financial Aid, Registration, and other functions elevates the quality of the prospective student experience. It gives prospective students a comprehensive look at the enrollment process, enhancing students’ understanding and ultimately reducing melt.

See the next 3 Common Mistakes Institutions Make in Trying to Enroll Working Adult Students

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