Recruiting nontraditional students requires nontraditional strategies

If colleges and universities want more nontraditional students on campus, they've got to expand their thinking about what constitutes a recruiting strategy, writes Matt Zalaznick for University Business.

Around 73% of students pursuing higher education have at least one "non-traditional" characteristic.

Two of the fastest growing populations of "non-traditional" students are adults and first-generation students. Zalaznick rounds up some of the strategies colleges are using to recruit these students.

First-gen students

Starting college without having someone in your family who you can rely on for advice and guidance can be intimidating. That's why some colleges have begun supporting (and recruiting) first-generation students long before they step onto a college campus by partnering with high schools and middle schools, Zalaznick writes. For example, Colorado State University brings local fifth-graders on campus to engage them in STEM-focused activities. It also allows local high school students to stay in dorms and take summer classes at the institution.

But it doesn't just allow the students to come on campus. Colorado State also sends its advisors to local middle and high schools to provide mentorship to these students in areas such as professional development, Zalaznick writes. As a result, about one-quarter of full-time Colorado State students are first-generation college students.

Much like Colorado State, the University of Southern California (USC) tries to help first-generation college students while they are still in high school, Zalaznick writes. It provides full scholarships to local, low-income high school students who complete the college-prep courses and workshops it provides. As a result, nearly 100% of these students enroll in college, many at USC.

In addition to these efforts, colleges must continue to simplify the enrollment process, according to Tom Green, associate executive director at the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers. For example, he says a business degree should be called just that, not "organizational dynamics." He argues that simplifications like this  especially help students and their families whose first language is not English—which describes a lot of first-generation students are from, he adds.

Adult students

While they're as dedicated as any other college student, adult students typically have far more responsibilities outside of school that traditional 18- to 21-year-olds fresh out of high school do not have. For example, they might have both a full-time job and a family while enrolled in school part-time. For this reason, they need more flexibility, Zalaznick writes.

This is why Jackson University in Florida implemented accelerated, eight-week courses, according to Margaret Dees, senior vice president of enrollment management at the university. The program offers adult students an option over traditional semester-long courses, during which an adult's other obligations might interfere. Having more flexible course scheduling options doesn't just liberate adult students to manage other aspects of their busy lives, but it allows institutions to serve more students as well.

Jackson University also provides online and hybrid courses, Zalaznick writes. But they have not totally abandoned face-to-face courses, however. This is because adult students sometimes want a quiet place to go learn and collaborate with classmates, says Dees.

But ensuring students are able to get enrolled in the courses they need for graduation is just half of the problem, Zalaznick writes. Often, when adult students go on an institution's website or social media pages, they only see content geared toward young students. For example, the institutional website often feature several images of smiling young people at the school's footballs games or homecoming celebration.

Institutions should ensure they provide information about online and hybrid instruction and courses offered at flexible times—front and center, according to the Council for Adult & Experiential Learning. In addition, colleges should have on their websites information about getting credit for work experience, and something that adult students look for right away: costs (Zalaznick, University Business, 7/19).


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