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2015 Adult Learner Marketing and Recruitment Practices Benchmark Report for Higher Education Undergraduate and Graduate Programs

July 14, 2015—To help rein in the rising costs of education, increasing numbers of colleges and universities are turning to the adult, online, and graduate markets to provide alternative revenue, diversification, and growth.  A new study provides research to guide these new developments as well as benchmarks to evaluate the effectiveness of existing adult learner programs.

The 2015 Adult Learner Marketing and Recruitment Practices Benchmark Report from Ruffalo Noel Levitz was based on a 72-item, web-based poll of campus officials in April 2015.  The report combines its findings across undergraduate and graduate levels, because undergraduate and graduate programs often employ similar practices to attract adult learners. Nearly 200 institutions participated in this study, creating results that are statistically sound. 

Among the highlights:

  • Across institution types, three highly effective practices for generating inquiries from adult learners were open houses, face-to-face information sessions, and website “request information” forms.
  • Evening and online classes were widely used course formats for attracting adult learners across sectors. Also popular were cohort-based classes, once-weekly classes, and mixed modalities (a blend of online and on-ground coursework).
  • Webinar information sessions were rated effective by respondents from private and public, four-year and graduate institutions, but were used by only a minority of these institutions.
  • Phone call attempts and personalized emails were the most widely used practices across sectors for following up with adult learner inquiries.
  • At private four-year and graduate institutions, 40 percent of adult learner applicants were reported to be “stealth shoppers”—applicants who applied for admission without inquiring beforehand—compared to 20 percent of applicants at public four-year and graduate institutions.
  • Two-year public institutions were more likely than institutions from other sectors to offer VA benefits, work study, state scholarships, tuition reimbursement from companies, and discounts for external organizations.
  • Compared to public institutions, a larger percentage of private institutions reported having adult degree programs in place for more than 10 years and having a specific recruitment plan for adult learners. Private institutions also reported shorter response times for follow up with inquiries.

“By digging into this new report, colleges and universities can find answers to questions such as, what are the most effective methods to recruit the adult learner, be they undergraduate, graduate, or online? Which approaches are the most common? How are programs staffed? And what is the response time to an inquiry?” notes Dr. Sue Dietrich, associate vice president of adult, online, and graduate consulting services at Ruffalo Noel Levitz. “Readers may find that they are under-utilizing a common, valued practice while over-using a less valued practice. They also could discover that they are under-resourced in terms of staffing or in the types of financial aid they are offering to students.”

For a copy of the 44-page report, visit www.noellevitz.com/AdultLearnerRankings

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About Ruffalo Noel Levitz

Ruffalo Noel Levitz is a nationally recognized consulting firm focused on higher education enrollment management, student success, and fundraising. Since 1973, Ruffalo Noel Levitz has partnered with more than 3,000 colleges and universities throughout North America. Ruffalo Noel Levitz has offices in Colorado and Iowa. For more information, visit www.RuffaloNL.com.

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