Once a minority, today’s ‘non-traditional’ students are far outnumbering the 18- to 22-year-olds who have opted to take the ‘traditional’ route to higher education. The National Center for Education Statistics loosely defines a non-traditional student as meeting one or more of the following criteria:
• Delays enrollment after high school
• Attends college part-time
• Works 35 hours or more a week while enrolled
• Has a family
• Is a single parent
With recent studies reporting that seventy-three percent of current students enrolled in a higher education system are labeled non-traditional, it’s important to understand what these students value in a program and why it matters in the higher education industry.
WHY ARE THEY CONSIDERING ONLINE PROGRAMS
For many non-traditional students, the traditional route to a degree is not a feasible option. These learners are looking for a program that makes earning a degree possible within his or her unique circumstances. Forty-five percent of enrolled online students say that without an online program available, they would not have pursued a degree.
With more than half of the 4,500 brick-and-mortar universities now offering online degree programs, it has never been more convenient for a non-traditional student to enroll into an online program. Enrolling in an online program can offer many of the options students are seeking and cannot find in a traditional college setting. The most appealing aspects of an online program include a degree that offers:
o Current online learners ranked flexibility of scheduling as the greatest advantages of studying online
o 17% of online learners rank flexibility to study around work obligations as the second greatest advantage
• Ability to study anywhere
o 32% of online program students rank the ability to study anywhere as their top advantage
• An accelerated degree option
• Strong alumni base for networking
• Quality university reputation
WHY IT MATTERS
These non-traditional students matter to higher education institutions because they have become higher education’s largest target market. These individuals are outnumbering traditional students and it is important to understand the challenges and opportunities that each group faces in order to meet them with a message that speaks to their circumstances.
Non-traditional students can offer benefits to employers such as life experience, goal orientation and professional experience outside of the classroom. Several businesses are taking note and creating opportunities for their employees to advance.
Corporations like Starbucks and Walmart are investing in their employees offering to reimburse associates for part of the online education tuition costs. Starbucks recently announced that they will begin subsidizing two years of online education at Arizona State University’s online degree program for their associates. Walmart began the partnership in 2010 and has over 2,800 employees enrolled in online programs through the American Public University System.
Moving forward, it’s important to not ignore higher education’s most significant shift in history, but to embrace it. The share of all students who are over the age of 25 and enrolling in a higher education program is projected to increase twenty-three percent by 2019, which is an increase from the thirty-eight percent enrolled currently.
With this many prospective students looking for a higher education program, it’s important to include marketing messages that are appealing to the non-traditional student. These messages should include words or phrases that highlight a program’s flexibility, affordability, convenience and quality.