Close to half of today’s currently enrolled students are over 25 years old. Yet, they remain the most underserved group in higher education. When we fail to provide learning environments where they can thrive, these adult student learners can become disillusioned and disenfranchised, and we may not be able to retain them. So, we asked Dr. Cathy Briggs, the Dean of Student Success at Rowan College at Burlington County (NJ), about some strategies to better serve and retain adult students. She cut to the chase, suggesting that we, “Skip over the buzzwords – if you’re in any area of student affairs right now, you’re looking for implementable solutions that have minimal costs and high impact – especially when you’re trying to support adult students.”
“Wrap around services work,” she continued, “but the need for institutional commitment to staffing and resources is typically the only way they get to the finish line. And that takes time, sometimes too much time.
“So what can a single department or a dedicated team of student services professionals do? To better serve your adult students, research shows that there are several ways to better serve and retain this cohort. Here are 3 simple but strategic changes that can be implemented this month – as long as the individuals involved commit to the planning, communication and implementation.
“Serving adult students better happens when we:
- Reduce the Clutter. Most of our adult students are busy with obligations outside of their college experience. When we need them to know something, we serve them better by getting clear, concise messages out there. Commit to editing each other’s emails and flyers. Use tools like the Gunning Fog Index (gunning-fog-index.com) to assess the reading level of your most recent communication. If it’s above a 10th grade reading level, it may not be as effective as you hope! Simple is better when you communicate.
- Ease the Transition. As an adult yourself, you know what it’s like to be transferred and need to re-tell your story to the next person, over and over, before you get an answer. Institute a soft-hand off transition in your department. Commit to contacting the office the student needs before you transfer the call – to avoid a voicemail dump or possible disconnection. Reduce frustration from your students by including the right contact office or professional as a cc in your email and noting the introduction. This helps form an initial connection and reduces the need to re-tell the story.
- Resolve the Micro-Frustrations. Access to college resources and appointments outside of standard office hours is a frequently documented frustration for adult students. Develop processes in your office that allow for regular after hour services. Build a schedule that staffs just one evening each week – even virtually. Promote it to your adult students through targeted messaging and track your results. Is it worth it? Most schools who implement it say yes! If staffing after hours isn’t an option, consider how you can create online resources – videos, instructional pdfs, access to office forms, appointment scheduling, etc. – on a website dedicated to your adult student learners. Reducing some of the frustrations that may arise may yield significant changes in satisfaction and retention.
“These three implementable changes can change your adult students' overall experience with your office. And the good news is – these same strategies may also benefit your other student cohorts.”
Join our On-Demand Training “Your Adult Students: Support to Better Meet Their Needs” for a deeper dive into the strategies that support and retain adult student learners and how you can implement positive changes on your campus.