Competing in the Adult Student Marketplace
Non-traditional students provide lucrative opportunities for institutions agile enough to respond and effectively understand their needs.
Higher education is in a state of flux, and institutions need new revenue streams and new business models in order to successfully navigate this stage.
Part of the problem lies in a drop in traditional-aged student enrollment. Institutions used to be able to rely on this population as a viable revenue stream to combat decreased funding, but no more. Now, the adult student population is growing at twice the rate of the traditional-age student population. Already, almost 50 percent of all postsecondary students in the United States are over the age of 24. Compounding this fundamental change in the marketplace is the recent decrease in state funding. Between 2011 and 2012, state funding decreased by 7.6 percent—the largest decrease in more than 50 years. Private institutions are not immune, as they have also experienced budget cut across the board.
These issues are game changers that force institutions to rethink their approach to the postsecondary space. The surge in non-traditional students offers a lucrative opportunity, and institutions agile enough to respond will not only buoy their own numbers, but they will also help fulfill a national economic imperative. By 2018, 63 percent of all jobs in the United States will require a postsecondary degree—a level of education currently possessed by only 39 percent of the population. Adult students are an integral part of ensuring long-term economic stability for both institutions and the national economy as a whole.
To compete in this market, institutions must understand and respond to the specific needs and goals of non-traditional students, who often have different priorities than their traditional-aged peers. There are many ways institutions can be innovative in this space. For example, non-traditional students have flocked to online courses, where 78 percent of students are over the age of 24. Beyond unique and flexible delivery, institutions also have a number of opportunities to rework credentialing, services, scheduling and more to meet the expectations of this diverse demographic.
Non-traditional students are here to stay and schools that cater to their needs will remain viable and successful in the long-term. By understanding their obstacles, hopes and requirements for their education, institutions are better set to compete effectively for adult students.
Last updated: February 1, 2021