Wednesday, August 13, 2014


Finishing What They Started

This post is a shameless attempt to learn from others’ experiences.  

Community colleges have long had multiple markets.  One of those is adults who have some college experience, and an accumulation of credits, but no degree.  Frequently these are folks who had some sort of major personal-life change in the course of college, and had to walk away.  Years later, the decision to walk away acts as a sort of limit on earning power, as well as a nagging sense of something missing.  (Anecdotally, new parenthood is a frequent cause.)  

The appeal of converting a collection of credits into a degree is twofold.  It offers an employable and transferable credential, and it offers the satisfaction of having something to show for the experience.

This group should be a natural, especially in the era of online courses.  Offer the chance to parlay the collection of scattered credits into a degree at low cost, when the kids are in bed, and I could imagine plenty of people seeing real appeal in that.  As it happens, our online student demographics skew older and (even) more female than our on-campus demographics, which is consistent with the idea of Moms coming back to finish.  (For reasons I still don’t understand, men over 25 are far less likely to come back than women over 25.  But that’s another post.)

Almost by definition, though, potential degree-completers are a tough group to reach.  They’re often swamped by the stuff of daily life, and characteristically have little time to devote to a college search.

I’m hoping that someone out there has found a consistently effective way to reach this group, and has perhaps learned some real-world lessons about what they would/should have done from the outset, had they known then what they know now.  Based on actual experience, is there any advice you’d offer?  Alternately, for people who have been the returning adult student, is there something you wish your college had done differently?

SNHU tries to reach them with national ads. Although that is not likely work for any of the rest of us, it would be interesting to know what their response rate is.
I would guess it's women putting their youngest kid in school that makes them think "what do I do next?" that makes some of them think of college.

I guess you reach them with advertising during the back to school promotions, at elementary school enrollment time with a goody bag maybe.

I think the time to hit Dads is when they no longer have children as financial dependents. But that tends to be at the same point in time as when men have their highest earning potential so it's a lot to give up.
There is a campaign related to this going on right now in Arkansas. Grant funded and administered by the Arkansas Association of Two Year Colleges, it includes a media blitz and other outreach activities.

MN has a state-wide program that connects students to individual campuses. It's worth looking at how they designed their marketing, as they have analytics regarding what terms students used to find them, and what terms worked in their ad campaign.

Are you aware of this WICHE resource:

My mother went back to college after all her children were finished with school. She had had to leave college because women were pushed out of college to make way for men returning from WW II, then life happened and she didn't have a chance to go back to school until she was in her 50s or 60s.

She got her AA in literature, because she really wanted to learn more about it, not because there was any job she could get as a result (her original degree would have been in science, but she didn't think that she could or would want to catch up on all the changes in science since WWII).

When you are looking for older students, which mission are you trying to fulfill: vocational, transfer, or recreational education? There is a big market for recreational education---learning for the love of it---among retirees, which community colleges used to be the mainstay for. In California, the budget cuts and the legislative insistence on transfer as the primary mission of community colleges has really gutted the recreational education marketplace.
Radio ads. They're commuters, or they are homemakers listening to the radio while they work or driving around town.

Despite reports to the contrary, radio is not dead.
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