New Study Reveals Strategies to Engage and Recruit Adult Learners in Higher Education

New Study Reveals Strategies to Engage and Recruit Adult Learners in Higher Education

May 20, 2021
Adult woman in graduation cap and gown

Family-focused engagement and recruitment events, online tools, and partnerships with trusted community members are key strategies higher education administrators can use to engage and recruit adults in higher education, according to a new Mathematica brief. From Outreach to Enrollment: Strategies to Engage Adults in Education Beyond High School examines the marketing, outreach, and enrollment approaches that states have used to engage and enroll adult learners in their respective higher education programs as Adult Promise initiative grantees.

The initiative, which Lumina Foundation launched in 2017, has funded 15 states to develop and test innovative programs to engage adult learners, defined as prospective students ages 25 to 64, in higher education. Participating states include Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Minnesota, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, Texas, and Washington. The “promise” aspect seeks to improve access to financial supports, as many adult learners have exhausted or are otherwise ineligible for traditional sources of aid. The program also delivers improved outreach and other supportive services.

The brief highlights three key features states and higher education administrators can use to bolster enrollment of adult learners and retain them through graduation:  

  • Targeted messaging. Adult learners often have priorities that differ from those of students enrolling in higher education programs directly after high school such as family and work-related responsibilities. Thus, it is important to use targeted messages that recognize these competing demands.
  • High-touch approaches. Adult learners often need more high-touch approaches, such as the support of navigators to guide them through the enrollment and financial aid process, as well as additional support once they engage with an institution.
  • Online tools. Online tools can help engage prospective adults and make enrollment convenient and efficient, given many adult learners are often balancing work and family demands with education.

“We know states and institutions across the country have established ambitious college completion goals to address their respective workforce needs. We hope this brief and other resources we have developed about the Adult Promise initiative can provide clarity about how to support adult learners,” said Julie Bruch, who directed the study. “The reality is that state college completion goals cannot be met without public higher education systems understanding how to address the inequities that prevent many adult learners from obtaining a higher education credential,” she added.

As the evaluation and learning partner for the initiative, Mathematica conducted formative and summative studies of the state-based Adult Promise programs. The brief draws on data collected from telephone interviews with Adult Promise program leaders, a survey with partner insti­tutions, site visits to three Adult Promise states, and a document review of marketing and outreach materials for 12 Adult Promise states.

To learn more about how Adult Promise state initiatives are supporting adult learners in higher education, explore this interactive visualization, which provides state-specific information and answers common questions about funding, designing, implementing, and sustaining comprehensive, equity-focused adult education attainment initiatives.