Nontraditional students make up the largest and fastest-growing segment of the post-secondary student population, bringing revenue and life experience to colleges and universities around the world. Marketing to nontraditional students opens up an institution to a whole new demographic, adding a layer to the traditional students a university or college is already targeting.
But a nontraditional student’s unique background and life experience necessitate a different marketing approach.
A Nontraditional Approach
Marketing to traditional students is a fairly straightforward endeavor. Almost all of them fit comfortably into one large bucket: They follow a predictable cycle and enter college immediately after high school.
Nontraditional students are a separate matter, however. There is no one-size-fits-all marketing strategy for the group that comes to colleges and universities from different backgrounds and at varying stages of their lives. The average nontraditional student has a lot to consider before making a decision, including the benefits to their careers, potential costs, and time commitment.
Here are five ways to get their attention:
- Know your market. Sending out a blast email about your MBA program isn’t going to turn any heads with nontraditional students. Even if you’re the only place in town where people can get a degree, potential students can seek online options that might be cheaper, more convenient, or better known than your institution.
When you do your market research at the local, national, or online level, find out what separates you from competitors. You might be the seventh-cheapest option, but you could also be the only institution that offers a fully online cybersecurity degree. Seek students who are professionally interested in that program and focus your efforts on them. Nontraditional students are notoriously picky, so find out what you have that they want.
- Build strong connections. Along with knowing the demand in your area, you should also find ways to make some powerful connections. Many nontraditional students have strong connections with their employers, so creating a relationship with companies that have a track record of supporting employees who wish to go back to school can create a steady and fruitful pipeline for your institution.
This is easier said than done, but the right approach can make it work. Dedicate a person in your office to connect with human resources departments and build partnerships at different businesses. The HR department will always be the team to sign off on tuition discounts and contact employees about continuous learning initiatives such as free webinars. The latter is a great way to show off what you have to offer and generate interest among potential students.
- Show the details. Nontraditional students weigh their choices carefully. They’re not simply “going to college” in the same way traditional students view higher education. Rather, they want to earn a certificate or degree that will help them professionally while fitting in schoolwork around their busy lives. You need to give them the pertinent details to help them make that decision.
Institutions that clearly state their nontraditional student outcomes, required time, and financial investment and present some degree of flexibility will stand out with this student group.
- Get online. Baby Boomers are aging out of the nontraditional student market. The demographic is transitioning to the more tech-savvy group of 25- to 40-year-olds. Advertising from colleges and universities should respond to this change by recruiting online. These potential students are more interested in Facebook News Feeds than TV screens.
- Look outside of education. Nontraditional student marketing is more similar to consumer marketing than traditional college recruitment marketing tactics and the cycle of that marketing. Look to marketing tactics being used by other industries, such as retail, technology, health care, and even the military, to get an idea of what’s been successful outside of education.
The majority of students enrolled in higher education right now are, in some way, technically nontraditional (i.e., some may be older, have kids, be married, or be working full time or part time). Why each type of student is pursuing higher education might be vastly different, learning how to market to each will help you as you continue to develop your enrollment marketing efforts.
Jessica Shasserre is director of higher education marketing at MediaCross, a recruitment marketing agency dedicated to helping others achieve their goals. Jessica helps create fresh marketing solutions for higher education clients with a personalized, brand-forward approach.