Educating the Adult Learner

A survey examines why older students go back to school.

ABOUT 9.6 MILLION adult learners in the U.S. will go back to school in 2020. What are their motivations and barriers, and how can institutions of higher learning attract them? These are questions addressed by Lane Terralever, a higher education marketing agency, in a recent study of 450 nontraditional learners, whose ages range from mid-20s to near retirement.

Published in November 2019, “Marketing Higher Education to Today’s Non-Traditional Students” identifies four types of adult learners: those who are affiliated with the military, those who want to climb the job ladder, those who want to switch careers, and those who didn’t earn degrees directly after high school. Many of these learners:

  • Face cost and time barriers.
  • Are optimistic they will return to school.
  • Look for messaging that speaks to their stages in life.
  • Are a source of untapped potential.
  • Are largely not seeking bachelor’s degrees.
  • Do not need a “hard sell” to convince them to pursue educational options. .

According to the report, “Institutions that speak to a prospective student’s unique barriers will likely reap the benefits of increased enrollment and help pave the way for the changing education landscape.”