Gain insights from InsideTrack’s extensive work with adult student enrollment

Discover five common mistakes institutions make in trying to enroll working adult students – and how to avoid them

As institutions are seeing enrollment numbers for traditional college-age students continue to plateau or decline, the competition for adult learners has never been greater. The numbers show that higher ed leaders should continue — or increase — their emphasis on attracting older learners:

  • 47% of part-time undergraduates work at least 35 hours per week
  • 17.6% of all undergraduates are exclusively distance learners
  • More than 20% of first-time college students are over the age of 24

Adult learners are looking for options that acknowledge their busy lives and competing commitments. Along with convenience and affordability, they need the flexibility and support required to balance work, family and other obligations with their academic goals. Reviewing your enrollment programs to meet adult student needs is a good first step. But to ensure those online courses and evening classes are filled, avoiding these common enrollment mistakes is critical.

Mistake 1: Making them wait for a response

When a prospective adult student indicates an interest in enrolling, they expect an immediate response. Don’t leave them hanging. The most successful adult and online programs know this – and have response times measured in hours and enrollment processes measured in days. They also leverage the full spectrum of communication tools, including text messaging, social media, video chats and mobile apps.

Mistake 2: Overcomplicating the prospective student enrollment experience

What’s the quickest way to lose a prospective working adult student? Force them to navigate through multiple departments to compare programs and find answers to their application, tuition, and/or registration questions. Coordinating advising, financial aid, registration, and other functions goes a long way to improve the prospective student experience, enhancing their understanding of the enrollment process and ultimately reducing melt.

Mistake 3:  Neglecting to connect the dots between education and career goals

Unlike many younger students, adult learners are typically focused on reaching a specific goal, which is often to advance their career or transition to a new field. Address this early on. By starting the enrollment process with a discussion that aligns education goals with career objectives, you’re telling these motivated learners that you understand why they’re in school and you’re committed to helping them succeed.

Mistake 4: Using a one-size-fits-all approach for every applicant

Along with a rapid response, prospective adult learners also expect personalized outreach. So give them what they want by leveraging technology and data to customize your communications. This includes letting them choose their preferred method of communication, providing relevant content, and giving them only the information they need – when they want it and how (what format) they want it.

Mistake 5: Losing touch between registration and start

Weeks or months may pass between when students register and when classes begin. During this time, new life or work obligations may creep in, chipping away at their educational motivation. Show your support through regular communication, resources, and solutions right up to the first day of class. This is a time to foster excitement and communication, reinforcing their reasons for enrolling – and the rewards that lie ahead.


As Golden Gate University was enrolling students for a fall term during the height of the pandemic, it quickly became apparent that the “new normal” of COVID-19 was going to require new approaches to student support — especially for adult online learners. Learn how partnering with InsideTrack resulted in a 28% increase in fall 2020 enrollment — and that was just part of the story.

Read the Golden Gate University Case Study

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