Reaching new prospects in the adult education market takes a different approach than luring in soon-to-be high school graduates. The needs and concerns of non-traditional students are often more complicated. Students over the age of 25 who return to the classroom are taking a huge leap of faith — and personally adopting a financial commitment. As David Scobey, former dean of The New School in NYC attests, adult learners also value the idea of education as a means of personal growth more than traditional students.

As an institution, it’s important to not only provide tangible job skills but also heap on assurances about how the student will continue to be supported on their education journey. Read on to find out more about the unique experience of a non-traditional student.

Communicating to Non-Traditional Students

A traditional student enters college after high school and often has familiar support. Non-traditional students in the adult education market often have their own kids and a full-time job. Their student experience involves less partying and more balancing work with adult responsibilities.

Effective communication with a non-traditional student should focus on how the program can help them realize tangible benefits in their industry, like a pay bump or upward mobility in their current job role. Institutions like the University of Phoenix succeed in no small part because they promise practical coursework that is uniquely befitting learners who are already in the workforce.

Some best practices for communicating with adults students include an emphasis on:

  • The difference in salary for someone with a degree versus someone without one
  • How their new degree will lead to personal and professional growth and achievement
  • How the school minimizes the time the student needs to be away from their family and job (such as one-night-a-week classes)
  • The ways in which the school is flexible to adult students (such as allowing them to miss a class for an unavoidable work trip)

Walking Adult Learners Through the Process

It’s likely been years since an adult learner was in a classroom. Non-traditional students are usually asking themselves “Can I really do this again?” These students need resources and reassurances that traditional students usually don’t require. Schools like the University of Redlands in California, which has satellite campuses for adult learners, cater to the special needs of working students by streamlining the free application process and offering six starts throughout the year. Other resources the adult non-traditional experience can benefit from include:

  • An application process that includes follow-up at every stage
  • An assigned academic advisor who is available to aid in scheduling classes and offering advice for balancing work and an academic program
  • Free seminars from industry leaders to motivate potential and current students to keep going and show them the potential of their degrees

Organizing Credits for a Non-Traditional Student Body

According to the Association of American Colleges and Universities, non-traditional students tend to be very self-directed and prefer task-oriented learning to subject-oriented coursework. They also come to class armed with quite a bit of life experience under their belt. Schools like Walden College and the University of Memphis’s Global Campus leverage these trends by getting creative about how they offer credit. These institutions offer credit for life experience such as military service and professional credentials. Other best practices for scheduling and offering credit include:

  • Evening classes that accommodate the working student
  • Accelerated courses that enable adult students to complete their studies faster
  • Distance learning opportunities that allow students to do some of their coursework online
  • Credit for professional leadership roles and relevant volunteer experience

Adult, non-traditional students are a growing population that benefit from flexibility and task-related studying. These students can benefit from a paid membership in the Association for Non-Traditional Students in Higher Education, but more than that they need assurances that their hard work will pay off!