Enrollment Officers’ New Target Demographic – Nontraditional College Students

1735-1264367478zjLQRecent years have seen many changes in higher education. One of the biggest is the changing demographic of student populations. The terms ‘Nontraditional’ and ‘Post-traditional’ keep popping up in various discussions about today’s college students. What makes students nontraditional? Largely, it’s their age. Recent studies have shown that college students are increasingly older than the normal 18-24 range. In addition, over 40% of current college students are enrolled in community colleges and other 2-year programs. For-profit colleges have also seen increased enrollment over the last decade. According to the Wall Street Journal, only 29% of current undergraduate students fit the traditional demographic of 18-24, enrolled full-time at a 4-year public or nonprofit college. So, the question becomes, how do enrollment officers recruit this new, dynamic demographic?

What College Life is Like for Nontraditional College Students

Nontraditional students are a diverse group of students, which includes adult learners, re-entry students, veterans, part-time students, full-time workers, parents and those without a high school diploma. Because of the other demands in their life, they typically commute to school and/or take their classes online. Whereas traditional students come to a school ready to be fully immersed in campus culture, nontraditional students are looking for a more streamlined approach. Instead of going through orientation, living on campus and having a social life primarily rooted in the college, nontraditional students are often living elsewhere and working part-time or full-time. They look for programs that offer the foundation they need for a career, assistance programs and often little else. Most nontraditional students don’t have time for clubs, activities, campus events and the other college enrichment experiences typically included in recruitment/marketing.

How to Appeal to Nontraditional Students

Nontraditional college students typically want to know two things when looking at a college or program – will this give me immediate job skills with low extracurricular requirements and will there be assistance available if I struggle? While a nontraditional student might not be interested in how much fun they’ll have playing intramural flag football, night classes with extra office hours for the professor will interest them. Essentially, they need to know the demands of pursuing a degree with your school will not be so burdensome that it will create impossible time requirements. This means focusing on the flexibility and mobility of degree programs suited for the demands of modern life.

Why It Matters

Nontraditional students are now the majority of college students. This statistical trend has been building for well over a decade (and before) but the recent economic recession saw a spike in many of these statistics. One of the more alarming trends (for those in traditional higher education) has been the stark increase in for-profit colleges and programs, particularly those online. Why are they succeeding? Because their marketing efforts appeal precisely to the needs of working college students. They offer a quick, easy solution to the normally time-consuming and arduous task of completing college. This largely reflects public opinion when it comes to higher education. Instead of being a life-enriching experience, most view college as little more than job training. Recent rhetoric on proving the worth of college being centered on job placement proves this view. While traditional colleges shouldn’t shirk away from their history of personal enrichment, most should have programs suited to the needs of this changing demographic, if they want to stay competitive. And enrollment officers should consider changing up their marketing language to appeal to this new, majority, demographic.

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