If your institution depends on nontraditional students to meet revenue goals, you know that every enrollment impacts your bottom line. Recruiting each adult learner is a major investment of time, effort, and money, and your admissions team spends hours on outreach, communication, and building relationships with your prospects. Because the cost to acquire just one student can reach the thousands, it’s business-critical to focus on retaining each student from the first day of class to graduation day.

As an enrollment leader, you understand the importance of taking a holistic approach to admissions and retention. However, when your staff is pulled in multiple directions and if your admissions and retention processes are manual, it can be easy to miss small opportunities that help retain adult learners. While enrollment management can’t really be on autopilot, there are initiatives and systems you can put in place to ensure your adult learners avoid melt and are kept engaged and on track to graduate.

Tip 1: Be Transparent

One of the main reasons adult learners withdraw is because they feel unprepared for or unable to adapt to the time management aspect of earning a degree. Many students don’t fully grasp the enormous time commitment that coursework, class participation, and research require. An integral part of both the admissions and advising processes is ensuring students have a full, clear picture of what is expected of them from the day they apply to the day they earn their degree. Properly managing expectations ahead of time will significantly reduce the likelihood of students withdrawing due to feeling overwhelmed.

Tip 2: Offer a Trial Run

There’s a reason most people prefer to try before they buy — it reduces risk and builds trust. Just as recruitment is a huge investment of time, money, and effort for your institution, earning a degree is a big undertaking for students. Create an opportunity for your students to experience your institution before they start classes. Consider developing an online demo course where students can interact with their future classmates and learn the ins and outs of your learning management system. We recommend keeping your demo course short, interactive, and fun. Be sure to include resources and information that will help your new students easily navigate their first few months of school.

Tip 3: Create a Network

Most adults are already comfortable with online networking and collaboration, and many thrive in this environment. Create a central, online space for your adult learners to connect with one another and find all of the important information and resources they need for school. This helps ease the transition for students returning to school after several years and empowers them to be proactive about earning their degree.

Tip 4: Keep Communication Open

The more knowledge your student-facing staff knows about every enrollee, the easier it is to develop strong, organic relationships that lead to happier students who stay in school. A customer relationship management (CRM) platform is a helpful tool to record detailed notes about each student. A CRM makes it easy to share information across departments, and your student records can get as granular as needed. In addition to tracking basic information, you can keep tabs on details like students’ motivation, goals, hobbies, and more. Have processes in place to ensure your student-facing departments are in regular communication to discuss and problem-solve issues and share information about incoming students or those who are close to graduating.

Tip 5: Get Proactive

Most institutions focus on training their admissions staff in recruitment and retention best practices, but few make the same investment in student-facing departments. While a positive recruitment experience can get your institution chosen, the work doesn’t end at admissions. Adult learners may experience many obstacles along their journey toward graduation, and withdrawal is always a possibility. Your institution will experience less melt if all of your student-facing staff is properly trained in proactive relationship-focused recruitment, which includes understanding and practicing techniques on how to overcome obstacles to enrollment and staying enrolled. Additionally, this type of training teaches your staff how to develop effective relationships with your students by understanding their true motivation for earning their degree. Pairing that information with institutional knowledge helps ensure your students earn their degree.

Tip 6: Check In Often

It’s true that adult learners want an easy, seamless process to register for courses and see their graduation plan from start to finish, but that doesn’t mean they want to be left on their own. To increase retention and proactively solve any challenges your students may face, we recommend making sure your advising and support teams schedule regular check-ins with every student. These meetings should relay important information like upcoming deadlines and performance tracking but should also provide time to check-in on how the student is feeling. Mention milestones, praise their successes, and give students an opportunity to share their stories — this all helps build relationships and increase the likelihood of retention.

Key takeaway. In a competitive market, it’s not enough to focus solely on attracting and enrolling adult learners. You must ensure you’re keeping them enrolled by having processes and initiatives that lead to a positive educational experience. If you are not incorporating some or all of the tips above, we recommend implementing them into your retention strategy and regularly reviewing your processes to measure effectiveness. Analyze student touch points from the time adult learners express interest in your institution through graduation day. To see what your students are saying, conduct surveys or monitor third party sites like Niche.com or social feeds. If a student withdraws, conduct an exit interview to understand why. Feedback and data from multiple sources will help you identify bottlenecks and prioritize and update processes to improve retention.

If you’re in need of a partner who can help ensure your institution’s retention initiatives are streamlined, effective, and meeting the expectations of your students, Rivetica will be here. Our experienced team of higher ed professionals will take a deep dive with you to holistically support and improve your enrollment and retention efforts.