From recruitment and enrollment to graduation, higher-ed institutions have historically been structured to serve traditional students—students who are 18 to 25 years old, coming directly from high school, first-time and full-time enrollees, and without major life and work responsibilities. In light of declining enrollment among traditional students and the demographic cliff leading to a smaller pool of prospective students, there is an opportunity for higher-ed institutions to engage and support the more than 36 million adult learners with some college but no degree.
For adult learners like Sonya, returning to school is just one of the many priorities they might be juggling. Job obligations, family and caregiving responsibilities, financial concerns, and even anxiety about enrolling in classes can add complexity to the decision to return to school. Successfully engaging and supporting adult learners requires specialized expertise and an empathy-driven understanding of the adult learner experience.
Since 2015, ReUp Education has worked with thousands of adult learners in their journey back to school, gathering and analyzing millions of data points from learner interactions to understand and serve this population. We’ve learned why they put a pause on their education. One of the most common misconceptions about adult learners who have paused their education is that they are incapable of or uninterested in continuing their courses. In reality, it’s that life happened. One survey we conducted reported that 89% of students who have taken a break from school express an interest in returning.
Not only do we know why learners put a pause on their education, but we’ve also identified the primary factors that impact an adult learner’s decision to re-enroll in school. Whether they want to return to broaden career opportunities, increase their earning potential, or achieve a personal goal, a number of factors that influence an adult learner’s likelihood to re-enroll at any given moment. After years of research and analyzing millions of data points gathered from interactions with adult learners, ReUp secured a patent in February 2022 on a proprietary personas model that takes into account the five key relationships and factors that affect an adult learner’s likelihood to return to school. Combined with personalized support and guidance from ReUp Success Coaches, the personas technology offers insight into why students leave school, why they wish to return, what’s in their way, and how to best support them in achieving their goals.
Informed by our patented personas, ReUp provides adult learners with the right message at the right time through the right channel. Each interaction with a learner offers more insight into the earner’s unique situation and life experiences that help us customize our support and coaching. But bringing learners back goes beyond outreach and engagement; it also requires support from the higher-ed institution to help make systemic changes in policies, processes, and programs that reduce friction for adult learners. When it comes to financing a degree, the traditional approaches and opportunities fall short in serving adult learners. Most information and support for financial aid at a higher-ed institution is developed with traditional students in mind. Financial aid options for a traditional-age student who is enrolled full-time, can live on campus, and can have a work-study job do not take into account the experiences of an adult learner who is enrolled part-time and needs to have a full-time job to support their family, including their parents, children, and/or spouse. With many financial aid options and the process of applying for financial aid geared toward traditional-age and first-time enrollees, it can take extra effort and time for adult learners to find the opportunities that take into account their life experiences and circumstances. Factoring in typical learner expenses such as textbooks, supplies, transportation, and administrative fees on top of housing, childcare, and living expenses can make returning to school feel out of reach.
What can higher-ed institutions do to support adult learners and reduce friction when it comes to finances? It might feel daunting to answer this question, but even taking small steps toward reducing friction can make a big difference. As part of our partnerships with higher-ed institutions, we provide regular updates, specific insights, and personalized recommendations based on data we’ve gathered and direct learner feedback so that our partners can improve enrollment and learner outcomes in the long term.
Schedule a call with a ReUp team member to learn more about what a ReUp partnership could do for your institution.