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Four Ways to Attract Diverse Adult Students

Tyson Schritter / Abound and Colleges of Distinction

Attracting and retaining diverse students is necessary in today’s adult higher ed market—and doing so can not only help you meet your adult program admissions goals, but also greatly enrich and strengthen your offerings. 

That’s why the most successful schools will be the ones that can accommodate this growing portion of diverse adult students. As an article from The EvoLLLution details, the “number of women adult learners has continued to increase, and individuals from various racial/ethnic groups now comprise a significant portion of the adult learner population.”

With that said, consider these four examples of how to reach and attract these key demographics to your adult programs.

Bring Your Programs to Adult Students

Expanding the reach of your programs can require a lot of planning and coordination with other institutions in your area, but all this work is effective in both increasing your programs’ diversity as well as serving your wider community.

One way to do this is to partner with local community colleges and provide your bachelor’s degrees and certificates right on their campuses, which is a similar strategy to forging partnerships with local businesses or other organizations to increase adult student enrollment. Imagine being able to communicate to prospective students who are finishing up courses at a local community college that they could keep attending that institution and eventually walk away with a bachelor’s degree. This would remove a huge barrier to entry for many of these students, especially for those who come from communities of lower socioeconomic status.

This is what Point Loma Nazarene University is doing in San Diego. Although the school’s main campus is located in Point Loma, right against the cliffs of the Pacific, they offer adult degree completion programs at six community colleges throughout San Diego County, some of which are over 40 miles away from the main campus. 

This allows the school to offer adult programs to diverse students who might never be able to attend otherwise. It’s a great example of how bringing adult programs to the backyards of prospective adult students can help grow and maintain student diversity.

Communicate That You Value All Types of Diversity

It’s important not only to specify that your adult programs are diverse (and accommodating to all types of students), but also to explain how this enriches your programs and makes them better. Ensure as well that your school’s understanding of “diversity” refers to life status, age, and work experience.

For example, offering child daycare centers is a great way to demonstrate that your school values students with young children. Many adult students would benefit from such a service, yet few schools take advantage of it. As one journal article, “Nontraditional Adult Learners: The Neglected Diversity in Postsecondary Education,” details:

“Over the past 10 to 15 years, however, colleges and universities that have daycare centers have steadily decreased (Eckerson et al., 2016), even though research has shown that student parents who have access to childcare are not only more likely to return to school but are also three times more likely to graduate.”

In addition to daycare centers, how about offering tailored assistance to lower-income populations to help them handle the transition to college? What about providing older students who have been away from academia for two or three decades the opportunity to speak with current students around their age? Or how about establishing a club for students from certain professional backgrounds, like nursing, business, or IT? Again, it’s important to be aware of all the different types of diversity that make up prospective adult students these days.

And, lastly, don’t forget to share what you’re doing with them. Your school might already offer a number of avenues of support for different types of adult students, but it’s important to make sure this fact is getting in front of prospective students. Highlight this in email campaigns, detail it in brochures, and make sure it’s visible on your website.

Give Your Diverse Adult Students a Platform for Sharing

Prospective students want to hear from current students who have backgrounds and experiences similar to their own. Stock photos of a diverse group of students on your website won’t convince anyone that your institution is creating an academic environment that values and fosters students with varying backgrounds, perspectives, and experiences. 

You need to actually give these students a voice, which can be done by highlighting quotes, featuring testimonial narratives and videos, or having them share on social media, which can all offer an authentic glimpse at your school’s adult programs through diverse perspectives. 

Again, keep in mind the need to highlight all types of diversity. You can feature adult students who are many years removed from school, students from diverse ethnic backgrounds, and students from varied professional backgrounds (military, nursing, etc.). Obviously, the more you have, the better, but since this is something that can take time, first determine the student demographic that needs representation and start there. 

Your Faculty and Staff Should Reflect Your Commitment to Diversity

One of the most convincing ways to relay to prospective students that you value diversity is to point to a diverse group of staff and faculty working at your school. This is a clear and authentic way to show that your school values the richness of having a diverse group of people within your campus community. A diverse set of staff and faculty are going to enrich your school in numerous ways, allowing for a host of unique and original perspectives while ultimately making for a better academic environment overall.

Notably, this can reap personal benefits for the students themselves. Some students might find it more comforting and informative to speak with an admissions counselor or receive mentorship from a professor with a similar background—one who knows where the student is coming from and can help them address specific issues, fears, and challenges. 

This also requires that your hiring and screening process for staff and faculty is designed to reach diverse candidates. It may not be enough simply to list openings through traditional channels; you may recruit the help of diverse members already working on your campus and think through strategic ways of getting in front of a wider audience. As Jeffrey S. Russell, the Dean of Continuing Studies and Vice Provost for Lifelong Learning at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, writes

“It all starts with a more effective search and screening process. We’re doing a better job of assembling diverse hiring committees, with members from Continuing Studies and across campus when necessary. At the outset of each search, we encourage committee members to recognize their assumptions and biases to ensure a truly fair assessment of each candidate.”

Ultimately, it is a huge plus to be able to point to people on your campus who are similar to the very prospective students you’re recruiting. It’s yet another way to show—rather than tell—prospective students that you value the importance of attracting and nurturing diverse students in your institution’s adult programs. 

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