Webinar Looks At Challenges In Recruiting, Enrolling Non-Traditional Students

By Brittany Hackett, Communications Staff 

The rising number of “non-traditional” students seeking higher education presents significant challenges for many U.S. colleges and universities aiming to recruit and enroll them, according to a webinar presented by Inside Higher Ed on Thursday.

The webinar, “Educating Non-Traditional Students, examined the changing demographics of college students in the U.S., as well as some barriers faced by non-traditional students and ways colleges and universities can better address their needs.

According to census data presented in the webinar, there has been a 13.9 percent increase in overall higher education enrollment in the U.S., with female and part-time students outpacing male and full-time students. Data from the National Student Clearinghouse (NSC) also show that students ages 25 and older make up 35 percent of all postsecondary students and 54 percent of students ages 25 to 29 are full-time students. 

NSC data also show that 31 million students can be considered “almost completers,” having been enrolled in higher education in the last two decades without earning a degree, including four million students who completed two years of school without earning a degree. 

This shows a “tremendous challenge to American higher education because it suggests that lot of people saw some value in enrolling … and left” without a degree, IHE Editor Scott Jaschik said during the webinar.

IHE Editor Doug Lederman said that there is a growing number of institutions looking to serve the non-traditional populations of students for the first time but they may face the biggest challenges because they do not have the programs and services these students need.

Jaschik and Lederman discussed several barriers that prevent non-traditional students from enrolling in higher education, including:

  • A perception that college is only for 18-year-olds;
  • Under matching;
  • Assuming that the sticker price reflects the true cost of attending a college; and 
  • Life obligations, such as family, work, or other personal issues. 

There are many strategies colleges and universities can take to better recruit and enroll non-traditional students, including designing financial aid and loan programs to meet their concerns and needs and to reflect the value of higher education as it relates to its cost. Colleges should also consider programs and services they currently offer and how they are different from what non-traditional students want and need. For example, many non-traditional students looks for career-oriented programs that have flexible schedules and services that will help them complete a degree more quickly than younger students. In addition, many students benefit from online instruction or competency instruction which “relates very directly to the needs of the adult student learner,” Lederman said.


Publication Date: 9/12/2014

Lori V | 9/12/2014 2:57:06 PM

We are running into a number of our non-traditional students coming to us as transfer students, thus having used BEOG/PELL and much of their aggregate life time loan limits. By the time they can complete a degree here, they have maxed out both and do not have enough funds to complete.

John G | 9/12/2014 9:6:48 AM

Unfortunately "non-traditional" also translates sometimes to "lifelong student", someone who has no plans to work and repay his or her debt. We have gone from seeing "Pell runners" to "loan runners" at many schools, and it is a growing concern.

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