Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Attracting Adults

Like many cc's, mine is banging its head against the wall trying to reverse a long-term decline in the number of adult students.

Contrary to stereotype, most of our enrollment growth has been in students age 19 and under. Our enrollments in the 22-and-up demographic have been slipping for some time.

Part of that, I think, can be traced to the cost of living in our service area. It's sufficiently expensive to live here at this point that if you aren't still living with Mom and Dad, you've moved away. The struggling 30-year-old single Mom doesn't live here anymore, even if she still works here. The adults who live here tend to have advanced degrees already.

(There's a consistent correlation between age and gender among our students. In the 19-and-under group, it's majority male, if by a narrow margin. In the 22-and-over group, it's majority female by an overwhelming margin. The overall student body is majority female.)

Still, even with some unfavorable demographics working against us, we could probably mitigate the impact of the exodus if we did a better job of attracting and keeping the (potential) older students who are here.

We've taken some of the obvious steps: we've implemented open hours in the evenings at the bookstore, the registrar's office, student services, and the like. We have academic advisors on duty in the evenings. We schedule courses to allow degree or certificate completion entirely at night, entirely online, or through a combination of evening and weekend classes. We advertise our occupational programs, and have developed some fairly short occupational certificate programs in high-demand areas. We have special Open Houses for adult students, non-credit programs in areas of special interest (art, culinary, etc.), and even days devoted entirely to senior citizens, who pay no tuition.

Yet the slide continues.

So I'm going to use my bloggy soapbox to make a cry for help. Has your college found a successful and replicable way to reach adult students? For the adult students (or adult former students, or potential adult students) out there: are there barriers to your enrollment that it would be practical for a college to address? My colleagues and I are starting to run low on ideas, but it's a big world out there. Help!