Field Notes: Connecting with Adult Learners

"Field Notes" is an occasional Connect column covering practical and philosophical issues facing admissions and registrar professionals. The columns are authored by various AACRAO members. If you have an idea for a column and would like to contribute, please send an email to the editor at 

by Arnold Arredondo, Ph.D., Dean of Enrollment Management, and Christopher Cotton, M.S., Admissions Officer, Baptist College of Health Sciences

When you think about an adult learner interacting with your marketing campaign, what do you picture? Do you imagine a twenty-year-old male reading the local newspaper on a Monday morning? He turns the page and notices your half-page advertisement about your college. Or do you imagine a thirty-something thinking about a career change as she drives past your billboard on the side of the road?  

And how you picture millennials? Do you see a teenager working part-time at Subway? Someone who is young and inexperienced at life?

Would you be surprised to know that the upper age of millennials are comfortably in their thirties? Possibly up to thirty-five? What if we connected the dots and realized that our ideal adult student population is quickly being filled by millennials! You read that correctly. The adult student population that would most benefit from your college programs are millennials!   

Millennials are the most-researched demographic profile to date. How well have you integrated those findings into your admissions plan? Let’s connect a few key points that will help make a difference in your strategy formation:

  • Brand names carry a lot of weight in their decision making.

  • They make emotional connections with products.

  • They are missing amenities (car, house, successful career).

  • They rely on supportive decision from parents, but will accept recommendations from strangers (think Amazon product reviews).

Traditional marketing does work with millennials, but the ROI is decreasing quickly with billboards, radio, and newspaper without some thought about their demographic profile. And how does this insight drive your marketing and communication plans? Below are some suggestions:

  • Leverage the reputation and/or successes of your college and faculty on your website, brochures, billboards, and any other marketing campaigns. Adult prospects (millennials) want to know that your college (brand) has a proven record of success.

  • But do not make it a long list of cold facts about your college! Talk about the impact on the community, advancement of ideals, or the achievement of personal success (emotional connection).

  • Many have a career, but just not a successful one (missing amenities). Highlight services such as tutoring, mentoring, and any other supportive framework available to them. Fear of balancing work and school is a very real factor to them.

  • Place testimonies (recommendations) from alumni on some of your materials. Space the release in your communication plan to compliment, but not overwhelm, your college (brand) messaging.

Many adult prospects work, so most will look into local college programs to fit into their schedule more easily. Make sure to invite them on campus for a tour!

Here are some key highlights to include in your communication script for tours:

  • Speak about job rates and career placement first.

  • List any programs with internships, clinicals, or other hands on opportunities. Highlight that they are quickly becoming the new extended job interview! Make sure to mention them frequently and with placement examples.

  • Talk about “support” services – tutoring, mentoring, success coaching, etc

  • Mention career services, alumni networks, and internships (again!).

  • Emphasize flexibility of courses (fit their work schedule).

  • Key point: Talk about cost last! Remember that adult learners (millennials) are the most willing to pay for a good college (brand). They know it will cost “something” in order to be successful.  Cost is a factor, but just not the biggest factor.

We can no longer think about adult learners without acknowledging that we are talking about millennials. The more you can reflect on the millennial demographic profile, the more successful your connections with adult learners will become!

Make sure to check out our next "Field Note" later this summer on Generation Z for more connection ideas.