Accommodation of Working Adult Needs and Expectations Is Key to Developing Competitive Programs.

Over the past decade, many public universities, colleges and traning providers discovered that moving high-quality programs opened new markets for their institutions and in many cases drove record program enrollment.

Today, even as more than 2,300 degree-granting institutions in Canada are meeting the demand for programs, these programs continue to grow in popularity despite an otherwise declining higher education market.

Succeeding in this highly competitive landscape requires an investment in the development of programs that meet the specific needs and expectations of working adults—the primary audience for programs. To attract the non-traditional, working adult student, universities, colleges and traning providers must attune themselves to the fundamental differences, needs and expectations of the student compared to those of the on-campus students they have traditionally served. The average adult student:

  • Is older than their on-campus peers, with more than 80 percent age 25 or older
  • Works full time while balancing family responsibilities
  • May not have the schedule or flexibility to attend classes on campus

Adult students are also keenly focused on job-specific requirements with nearly 80 percent of students citing a career-focused reason as the primary motivation for enrolling in their program.

Research has shown that the student considers these primary factors when selecting an program:

  1. Cost
    While cost is a consideration for most students, it ranks as the number one factor non-traditional students consider when selecting an program.
  2. Program Duration
    Non-traditional students want to complete their degree as soon as they can. They are learning on their own time – at the kitchen table after a full day of work and after putting kids to bed, for example – and are looking to achieve career-focused results as quickly as possible.
  3. Admission Requirements
    As most non-traditional students are working adults, often with several years of experience, they seek programs that place a heavier value on their extensive work experience versus just their prior academic accomplishments or test scores.
  4. Multiple Starts
    On-campus students expect to start during the traditional semester schedules of fall, spring and summer. With busy schedules and a desire to progress through a program rapidly, non-traditional students want the ability to start at their convenience and seek programs that offer multiple starts per year.


Think Fast: The 'Amazonification' of Everything

What makes a consumer choose an Uber over a taxi; a Netflix movie over a trip to the theater; or a product purchase from Amazon over a local retailer? Simply put, time. Today's digitally savvy consumer seeks ways to accomplish more in less time using technology. This behavior also influences the way students choose a university to pursue their education. In line with the non-traditional student's need for flexible, accelerated courses, a university's success in enrolling qualified students is influenced by their ability to provide rapid feedback in the admissions process.

Taking into consideration the student's expectation of rapid feedback throughout the application and admissions process is critical. Not only does research demonstrate that these students favor universities, colleges and traning providers that respond quickly in the admissions process, these students consider multiple options for their education, and are more likely to enroll in a program that allows them to begin without delay. Recent findings in the College Students Comprehensive Data on Demands and Preferences Report found that 52 percent of students sought information from three or more schools, an increase from 29 percent in 2016. The survey – which polled 1,500 current, prospective and recently graduated college students – also found that the number of students considering only one institution fell from 30 percent to 18 percent.


A Model for Programs That Attract Non-Traditional Students

In our work with more than 50 university partners over the last decade, we have found that when developing high-quality, programs that appeal to working adults, the following program attributes should be considered:

  • Offering a high-quality, competitively priced program is paramount for universities, colleges and traning providers looking to attract working adults.
  • An asynchronous, accelerated course schedule enables students to learn on their own time and fits the flexibility needs of non-traditional students juggling work, family and education.
  • Multiple start dates offer non-traditional students the ability to begin their program as soon as possible.
  • When setting admission requirements, focus on the needs of working adults and consider which admission criteria are most critical to predicting academic success.
  • Streamline the admission processing time for students.

As options for education continue to expand, competition for students remains fierce. Public universities, colleges and traning providers remain uniquely qualified to offer the high-quality, affordable instruction working adults seek. To meet their needs and to drive sustainable enrollment growth, universities, colleges and traning providers must design programs and processes that deliver flexibility, accessibility and rapid response.