Student Retention: Rethinking in the Context of Adult Learners

Student Retention: Rethinking in the Context of Adult Learners

It’s no secret that providing dedicated support to meet students’ needs is linked with better higher education retention and completion rates. But as schools focus more of their enrollment efforts on the large market of adult enrollment candidates, it may be time to rethink what “student retention” truly means in the context of adult learners.

Honoring the Reality of an Adult Learner’s Life

As much as they don’t like to hear it, schools with high stopout rates are likely to see this trend continue if a significant portion of the students they serve are adult learners. In many cases, neither the school nor its students are at “fault” for these outcomes. So let’s take a moment to reframe stopping out from the lens of an adult learner. 

Adult learners are much different from first-year students. They have jobs and families, and for many of them, following the traditional path to completing a degree in a set amount of time simply isn’t realistic. It’s not that they lack the commitment, desire, or drive to go to school. Instead, it’s that school is one of the many responsibilities on their plates. Understandably, these students are more likely to “dip in and dip out” of pursuing their education. It’s possible they will even wait until later in their lives to consider going to college in the first place. 

Schools willing to honor the reality of an adult learner’s life and reconsider how they define and engage with these students are best positioned to attract and retain them. Strategies might involve building flexible pathways for adult learners to complete their education and offering alternative credentialing opportunities for adult learners who don’t need a full degree. 

Compassion is Key to Engaging with Adult Learners

When it comes to engaging with adult learners, MindMax has learned from experience that compassion is key. This is true whether we’re targeting stopout students or adults looking to attend college for the first time. 

Engaging stopout students

MindMax’s reenrollment services help schools in their student retention efforts by connecting with students who have stopped out at their school (or even other schools). 

Nearly every student we speak with who has stopped out conveys shame or guilt about their decision not to “finish what they started.” An institution reaching out to them with compassion is the first step in opening the door for them to reenroll—and the results speak for themselves.

Engaging new adult learners

New adult learners experience a similar sense of anxiety as stopout students. Many of these individuals are considering going to school for the very first time in their 20s, 30s, or 40s. Engaging them with compassion honors the full spectrum of their emotions and ultimately reflects well on the school. There’s never a wrong time to be kind.

Don’t Make This Higher Education Marketing Mistake

Student retention of an adult learner population in the traditional sense isn’t always feasible. However, there are opportunities for higher education marketing departments to reduce rates of yield, melt, and—yes—even stopping out.

Higher education marketing and sales teams’ core responsibilities include engaging with individuals to help them determine if a school or program is a good fit for them. But the mistake MindMax sees all too often is that schools stop these engagement efforts too soon.

Say, for example, an individual becomes a lead, fills out an application, and is accepted into a program. The marketing messaging shouldn’t just end abruptly. It must continue with different content that nurtures that student, perhaps by helping them anticipate and prepare for the first day of classes. In some cases where schools have a high rate of dropped classes, we might even recommend extending the marketing messaging until the drop/add date has passed for the first course. 

At MindMax, we help schools provide meaningful ongoing marketing content targeted specifically to adult learners. Connect with us today to find out more about our higher education marketing services.