Determining and Reaching Non-Traditional-Age Student Markets
by George C. Dehne
GDA Integrated Services has significant experience in determining, through a variety of techniques, the kinds of programs of interest to the non-traditional-age student market, the messages that will resonate with this group, and the tools for reaching them and persuading them to consider your program seriously.
Determine Institutional Capabilities
During our review of your materials and through our familiarization interviews, we will determine what credit-bearing undergraduate and graduate programs, as well as what non-credit options, are currently offered. We will ask about new programs that are “on the drawing board” and, perhaps, assist in determining new credit and non-credit programs that could be offered and effectively administered. We assume the ultimate objective is to find programs that can be offered relatively easily and at a reasonable cost.
For example, we suspect it would be of little value to suggest aeronautical engineering as a new program, even if there is a perceived need. If there is no way to offer the program without vast amounts of new capital, it would be unwise to consider it.
On the other hand, due to our experience with hundreds of colleges and a capacity for developing academic linkages, we suspect we can find several, of what appear to be, disparate programs at an institution that can be packaged into new and attractive fields at minimal costs.
GDA Integrated Services has a full-time staff that continuously finds secondary research related to higher education as a whole or to meet a client’s specific needs. (In fact, all the editors at The Chronicle of Higher Education receive our environmental scanning information.) In the case of non-traditional-age students, we look for specific kinds of information.
For example, we may start with the entire state and subsets in other states (e.g., a nearby city). We will look at the following kinds of information:
Overview of projected job growth by major groups of workers (e.g., managerial, professional or technical, etc.)
Fastest growing occupations
Impact on education and training (e.g., jobs requiring associate’s or bachelor’s degrees)
Occupational projections for about ten years out
Largest private sector employers
Demographic and educational backgrounds of people in a specific region
In virtually any county of any state, we can find economic development initiatives, new business development and emerging industries information.
The kind and extent of research depends largely on the focus of the study. Below we list some options we offer.
Current Student Survey: Often the first group we recommend studying are current students. Not only are they easy to reach, but they are the successful “recruits.” A current student study can answer these kinds of questions:
Why did these men and women choose to continue their education?
What were they seeking in a program?
Why did they ultimately choose your institution’s program?
What messages had the greatest impact on their decision to enroll?
How did they get their information about yours and other programs?
How would they have liked to get information?
What do they see are the strengths of your program?
What would they like to see improved in your program?
Employers: Depending on the opportunities, we focus on the larger employers in the region, the fastest growing employers in the region, the employers for whom the institution might find it easiest and cost-effective to provide services (business versus aeronautical engineering) or all three.
In the case of employers, we would pursue three lines of questioning:
What skills do they seek from their employees?
What are their current needs and what do they expect to be their future needs in the numbers and qualifications of employees?
What is their impression of your institution and how might your institution better serve them?
Inquiring Students: Generally, continuing education programs convert to applicants and enrollees a relatively small portion of those men and women who request information about a program. These lost inquirers can be a rich source of information. A survey of this group allows the institution to learn more about these people and their motivation, what they are or were seeking in a program, what might convince them to consider your program and determine the image of the institution among this group. This group also allows us to explore new program options. We have found that many non-traditional-age inquirers who contact a specific institution about educational opportunities, do not pursue their inquiry because they find that the program they seek is not offered. We conduct a series of short telephone interviews with men and women who inquired about your institution’s options to purse the line of questioning described above and, in addition, to determine what possible new programs are of interest to them. The objective, of course, is to identify apparent pent-up needs or interests among this motivated group.
Random-Digit Dialing Survey of Likely Households: GDA Integrated Services can also conduct a random digit dialing survey of households where there may be a family member interested in continuing his or her education. In a survey of this kind, we can learn the likely demand for your program, determine level of interest in continuing their education and, if they do have an interest, determine what undergraduate or graduate fields may be most attractive as well as what marketing tools would motivate them to act on their interests. We know from past research which demographic groups are most likely to be interested in continuing education. We have regularly purchased lists that meet the desired demographics. Obviously, to get a significant number of people interested (usually 400), it requires many more telephone calls. Consequently, this process is relatively expensive, although quite accurate.
Educational Interest Assessment Survey: This is better described as a marketing technique than a quantitative survey, but it does provide significant information. This survey is mailed to targeted households in certain areas with a three-point objective: 1) determine educational interests, fields of interest, class times, etc.; 2) alert or remind the households that your institution offers continuing education programs, and 3) get names, addresses and interests for your institution’s mailing list of prospective students.
Depending on the needs and interests of the client, GDA Integrated Services produces a comprehensive report on your institution’s options. In a nutshell, we make specific and comprehensive recommendations that generally include the following:
A description of the most likely candidates for your program
The new programs, if any, which will be attractive to your target audience
The sources of information that will be most effective in reaching the target audience
The messages about your programs that will be most effective in motivating prospective students to enroll
The image of your institution as a deliverer of continuing education and how to capitalize on this image or improve it, depending on the need
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