Navigating the Shift: Why Your Institution Needs a Strategy to Re-engage Adult Learners at Scale

adult learners learning a new strategy

Re-engaging adult learners at scale presents a significant challenge for colleges and universities. Our latest blog post details why DIY efforts don’t succeed, why a scaled effort is so crucial right now, and how ReUp supports our partners.

A common way institutions attempt to re-engage adult learners is to identify potential returnees from their databases and have staff members or an internal team reach out through emails or phone calls. However, these DIY endeavors usually come with some big limitations:

  • Bandwidth: Colleges and universities frequently find that their internal teams need to juggle multiple priorities and lack the resources to adequately engage a vast number of learners and personalize outreach to meet individual needs.
  • Complex engagement: ReUp data shows that effective re-engagement requires an average of 29 interactions per learner, a number that often exceeds the capacity of most in-house teams.
  • Lack of specialized knowledge: Successfully reconnecting with adult learners means understanding their unique needs and challenges. This level of expertise is beyond the scope of many institutional staff members, especially when enrollment efforts are primarily focused on reaching traditional, first-time students.
  • Sustainability: Internal efforts are often not sustainable over the long term, especially when the list of adult learners at the undergraduate level continues to expand each term and competes with initiatives to expand the scope to those at the associate or graduate level.

Why strategic re-engagement matters

In the changing world of higher education, significant demographic and economic shifts are impossible to ignore. The challenge lies in not just recognizing these shifts but in formulating a scalable and sustainable response. This response should aim to:

  1. Attract the adult learner demographic: The enrollment cliff is real, and its impact is compounded by the slowest population growth rate in U.S. history. Currently, 37% of college students are aged 25 or older, a trend that underscores the urgent need for programs that cater effectively to this demographic. Institutions must adapt to a shift in demographics that favors adult learners seeking to upskill or reskill. This is not just about filling seats; it’s about preparing the workforce of tomorrow.
  2. Bridge the skills gap for workforce development: The skills gap in the workforce represents both a challenge and an opportunity for higher education institutions. A recent report showed that by 2030, the global economy could face a shortage of 85 million skilled workers. Colleges and universities have a pivotal role to play in closing this gap by re-engaging adult learners. This not only helps individuals improve their lives but also supports regional and state economies by aligning educational outcomes with workforce needs.
  3. Clear a path to completion for adult learners with stranded credits: There are 6.6 million Americans with stranded credits. These are credits earned but not leveraged due to financial holds that prevent transcript releases. This is a significant barrier to credential completion for adult learners, especially those from historically marginalized communities. Partnering with organizations like ReUp that can analyze and recommend strategies allows institutions to identify and remove barriers to re-enrollment. This allows adult learners to return and complete their degrees or transfer these credits to another institution.

How ReUp helps institutions engage adult learners at scale

Re-engaging a database of adult learners who stopped out of school requires more than a DIY effort. ReUp’s approach combines technology, data analytics, human touch, and marketing to connect with this population over time—sometimes for as long as nine months before a re-enrollment occurs—while also helping partners identify, remove, or revise policies and procedures that are barriers for adult learners.

Lehigh Carbon Community College

Lehigh Carbon Community College (LCCC) wanted to increase overall enrollment, especially for adult learners, and communicate the college’s flexible options. But its primary enrollment strategy for adult learners was to include those who had stopped out in email campaigns targeted to traditional learners. Using ReUp’s proprietary technology, we scaled personalized student outreach, tracked student concerns and challenges, and presented findings to the college. ReUp’s data showed that many returning learners faced financial aid-related holds. In response, LCCC instituted an academic debt relief program to help students clear past balances. The program offered learners an opportunity to re-enroll and work toward degree completion, provided they met specific criteria within designated time frames. To date, the partnership has resulted in 1,029 re-enrollments and $4.32 million in recovered tuition.

New Jersey

In partnership with the New Jersey Office of the Secretary of Higher Education, ReUp outreached 273,000 of the state’s 790,000 adult learners who have some college, no credential. The partnership is designed to help move the state closer to its workforce development goal of 65% of working-age New Jerseyans with a high-quality credential by 2025. Since launching in April 2023, ReUp has facilitated more than 3.5 million interactions with this subset of adult learners in New Jersey, which resulted in more than 5,230 re-enrollments across the 22 participating institutions and $18.5 million in recovered tuition. The partnership serves as an example of how states and institutions can work together in efforts to close the skills gap.

Chicago State University

Chicago State University wanted to reach adult learners who had previously attended but had not completed their degree. After an internal effort resulted in about 30 learners returning, the school partnered with ReUp to improve its success rate. Through ReUp’s patented technology, conversations with learners, and data insights, we provided specific recommendations to remove barriers for adult learners. This included changing a policy that initially required learners to go to another school before returning to Chicago State. To date, the partnership has resulted in 172,000 interactions with adult learners, 315 enrolled and $2.6 million in recovered tuition.

Meeting adult learners where they are with tailored support

Re-engaging adult learners is no small task, but with the right partner, insights, and strategy, colleges and universities can radically expand their outreach, creating pathways to completion that uplift individuals, communities, and the economy at large.

To learn more about how we’ve helped our partners re-engage adult learners at scale, read our case studies.

Let’s start the conversation

Schedule a call with a ReUp team member to learn more about what a ReUp partnership could do for your institution.