The Educated Marketer


Inbound Marketing Techniques to Attract Adult Students

by Vicky Lynch | Aug 25, 2016

 |  college recruiting strategies, social media recruiting strategy


According to a 2013 article from the Wall Street Journal, only 29% of all students are traditional students, i.e. they are attending a four-year university full time right after high school and are living on campus. So, we can only assume as tuitions have continued to rise that percentage may be even lower today. Many colleges are finding that having more non-traditional students is helping them battle rising enrollment fees. And in the years to come, catering to these students will likely be the difference between staying open and shutting your doors.


So, how do you reach the new majority of college students? Are there different tactics you need to use to be most effective in boosting adult student enrollment?

Basically, you need to create quality content and spend time getting the right messages out that are relevant to adult students. They aren’t as worried about the quality of life on campus, but do want to know about what they will be getting in the classroom from your institution. They are interested in what programs you offer and how flexible you can be with their existing schedules and financial resources.

The people who have done it best in the past are actually the for-profit folks like University of Phoenix. They have created online flexible degree programs that fit for a demographic that according to Hanover Research is predominantly women between the ages of 25-49, with families, who make under $60,000 a year.

Adult students also hear about the programs in a different way. Your traditional student has a good idea that they are college bound, and spends the latter part of high school taking assessment tests for college and checking out prospective campuses. The adult learner is far too busy for that. They tend to hear about a program for the first time through a friend, through a television, radio or internet ad, all of which are not inbound marketing specific, but remember that we can’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Some traditional marketing strategies are necessary to enhance any inbound marketing plan.  

Here’s where you need to focus to get adult students in the admissions funnel:

  • Create a buyer persona for the adult demographic

We’ve already listed some of the demographic information that defines almost 70% of the student population. But know who your applicants are and have ways to reach their audience specifically.

Focus on your flexible learning options like online and night classes. And make information available on your site so that they don’t have to inquire. According to a private study, the 2015 Adult Learner Marketing and Recruitment Practices, almost 40% of adult students are “stealth” students, meaning they apply to a program without inquiring first. And according to NACAC, adult students spend a lot less time researching colleges (sometimes only a few months) before applying.

Cost is also a key factor for adult learners. They often have jobs but much of their money goes to everyday bills and supporting a family. They need to clearly know the cost of a program and financial aid information. According to a New America study, availability of financial aid and how much a program costs were in the top three factors on deciding on an institution, right behind which programs were offered.

  • Clearly List Career Benefits

Adult applicants most likely already have a job, are returning to the workforce or are switching career fields. In fact, 90% of subjects in the same study mentioned above ranked the top two reasons they are considering enrolling in your program as improving employment opportunities or to make more money. Specifically, how will your program help them accomplish this?

  • Landing Pages

The quality of your landing page is very important. With an adult student, this is likely the first contact they have with your institution. Remember, they aren’t browsing online for colleges; they clicked on an ad they saw that took them to your landing page.

National Louis University is a leader in the adult education arena. Let’s take a look at their landing page:


There are a few things to notice here. The focus on their education program, as they are leaders in this specific area and have a high priority to attract those students. They also have a drop down menu for visitors to choose their education level and their areas of interest, and a clear call-to-action to take the next step. They also have all of this above the fold, meaning that the user does not need to scroll down, all the information is available the moment they visit the page.

So what do all these bullets have in common? They are all about providing clear directions on for your adult prospective students and offering clear content that they can obtain without necessarily needing to directly inquire.

Adult students are busy. They are looking for an education that will fit into their already hectic lifestyle. Reaching them is a very different game than reaching your traditional student, but paying attention and doing what you can to reach them can make or break your institution.

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