More and more academic leaders are realizing that online learning and the ability to attract and enroll online learners are critical components of their institutions’ long-term strategy. After all, online learning is key for growing enrollments. In fact, online growth has accounted for three-quarters of all enrollment increases in U.S. higher education. With that said, the online learner presents unique needs and interests which need to be understood in order to capitalize on this growth. When done right, increasing your appeal to their needs and interests will gain you access to this population of learners, maximizing your enrollment potential.

You now know online learning is an important part of your enrollment strategy, but do you know what it takes to appeal to, and enroll these students? The online learner profile is predominately comprised of adults (75% are 25+ years) who come with competing priorities and specific goals. Having provided enrollment support to hundreds of thousands of students, and surveyed thousands of online learners, we have compiled a top 5 list of items we’ve learned are needed to appeal to this audience and unlock your institution’s potential for enrollment growth:

1) Personalize your conversations and messaging to your online learners’ unique preferences

Not all adult learners are created equal. With a wealth of experience and various backgrounds, each comes into learning for a different reason: Career Climbers, Degree Completers, Military, etc. Institutions need to personalize their conversations with these learners around their unique needs and motivations. This means tailoring the top selling points of your institution and programs based on what will resonate most with your audience.

2) Develop an appealing portfolio of programs

All students are consumers. Adult learners are a different type of consumer than traditional students. Adult learners are looking to complete their degree or advance their career, and as a result they are looking for different kinds of programs than the traditional student. You have to offer products/programs they want to buy, not products/programs which are “convenient” or have historically appealed to your traditional, on-the-ground students.

3) How much, how long, and what’s in it for me?

The online learner, especially the adult learner, is a long-term, impulse buyer. The top three items they care about are cost, ease with which they can start and complete their degree, and having a clear understanding of how obtaining their degree will help them achieve their goals. Being clear and competitive with your costs is very important.  Online learners have also told us time and time again that offering multiple rolling start dates, coupled with shorter course duration (6-8 weeks), is a top selling point for your programs. Showing job outcomes or having a prestigious institution and a well-known brand will all help make the student feel confident in the return on their education investment.

4) The easier it is to apply and enroll, the more enrollments you will get

Maximizing your online enrollment numbers is directly tied to your ability to make the process simple. Online students want to take action on their schedule, and you want them to be able to do so as easily as possible. This means providing user-friendly online applications and registration options. This also means being available to assist and answer questions when online learners need support – in the evenings or on the weekends, when they have a rare break from family and work.  Think of your communication as a long-term relationship.  Be prepared to stay in touch with useful information or friendly reminders over the course of 8-18 months.  Many institutions give up on students too early and miss the opportunity to be top of mind when the stars align and students are finally able to take action.

5) Target the students when they are most interested in enrolling

Unlike traditional students, peak demand for online learners happens earlier in the year, January and February. We see prospective students searching for online programs in search engines like Google or Bing at significantly higher rates in January and February than any other time of the year. New Year’s resolutions and goal setting spark newfound desire to go back to school. The holidays have passed, the weather is cold, and there is more downtime to check these to-do items off their list. You should take advantage of this demand by ramping up marketing efforts in November and December. Make sure you have enrollment advisors staffed to answer questions when students are more likely to reach out for support. Unfortunately, this is often a time when faculty and staff are not in the office, which becomes a missed opportunity. If you don’t want to miss out on the holiday down-time, consider outsourcing your enrollment support to someone like Blackboard who can provide assistance to prospective students, while allowing your enrollment staff much-deserved time off with their own families.

Step-by-step approach to student recruitment



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