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How To Adapt Your Marketing Strategy For the Growth Of Non-Traditional College Students

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While the idea of back-to-school shopping may conjure up images of young adults adjusting to dorm life, today there are more non traditional students than ever. According to data from the National Center for Educational Statistics, 43% of students are part-time, 26% work full-time, and 27% have dependents.

Marketers don’t target kids the same way they do parents, and marketing to an adult working 30 hours a week and attending school full time, possibly with dependents at home, takes a different tack than marketing to a teenager as excited about parties as they are leaving home.

Customize Marketing To Target Motivation

According to Becky Morehouse, senior vice president for higher education marketing firm Stamats, adult students fall into two general categories: practicals and dreamers. Practicals are looking to better themselves and their careers, and will respond well to examples of success achieved through education — for example, how startups likeFacebook were created at college. Then there’s marketing products used by aspirational leaders, such as former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer’s use of the Surface Pro tablet.

Dreamers are comprised of two subgroups; people who wanted to go to college but were thwarted by life, and those who attended for a short time and dropped out. Morehouse divides this group into “starters” and “finishers,” and recommends handholding marketing for the starters — demonstrating how they can achieve success through using your brand. Finishers are motivated by completion, and marketing messages that speak to that goal will be more effective.

Anticipate Student Concerns

Adult students have more demands on their time than their younger counterparts. To address those demands, Norwich University online created an interactive campaign that showcased the schedules of three non-traditional learners, including a veteran, a contract manager, and a non-profit worker, seeking to assure future students that it is possible to take a new path. Not only are non-traditional learners able to visualize themselves in this position, but there’s added value involved in marketing products that fit into this vision — where they eat lunch, for example.

Focus On Mature Messaging

Mature language doesn’t mean just taking out teen buzzwords. It’s about changing the messaging.“Life plays out differently for nontraditional students. Adult students know who they are and why they’re going back to school, and they have full, big lives already happening,” writes Shannon Seyler, a strategy director at education marketing company Zehno. She says that common college marketing slogans such as “life begins here” and “find yourself” often don’t represent the non-traditional student, who already has an established identity. They want a connection to career focused content.

“You need to convey a brand story that resonates emotionally and helps these prospects connect more deeply with your institution,” writes Seyler.

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