Higher education institutions are seeking out adult learners—professionals between their mid-20s and mid-40s who have the potential to both drive enrollment and significantly increase human capital in a region. But in order to successfully recruit from this market, you need to understand who adult learners are and what motivates them to go back to school.
Why Adult Learners Pursue Higher Education
As older millennials and younger gen Xers, adult learners are already productive members of the workforce and often have family and financial obligations. So why are they willing to take on the added responsibility, financial burden, and time commitments that go along with returning to school?
This chart from Eduventures offers a few reasons why adult learners are pursuing higher ed.
- Personal fulfillment: Millennials are especially well known for valuing personal enrichment just as much (or even more) as income. Furthering one’s education contributes to a development of self-worth and professional respect.
- Career change: On average, a working adult goes through about 6-7 career changes. But to successfully change careers, up-skilling through a degree, certificate, or other program may be necessary.
Where Are Adult Learners Currently Enrolled?
Does your student population have a high share of adult learners? How do you compare to the nation or other states? This information can be helpful when setting priorities and goals.
The following map details the share of each state’s undergraduate cohort that is age 25-49, using fall 2013 enrollment data from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) program.
If you hover over your state, you’ll also see data on adult learner enrollment, total enrollment, and concentration.
Concentration (or location quotient) quantifies how concentrated adult learners are in a region as compared to the nation. To understand what this means, simply subtract one and move the decimal point over two places; for example, Arizona’s location quotient of 2.27 indicates that it has 127% more adult learners than the national average—the highest in the nation.
Arizona’s high concentration of adult learners is largely due to University of Phoenix completions. That’s because IPEDS attributes completions to the place of completion, not the place of residence, so even University of Phoenix’s out-of-state online grads count as completions in Arizona.
Similarly, Arizona is runner-up for highest share of adult learners (33%), overshadowed only by Alaska (37%). In contrast, South Carolina (7%) and Wyoming (6.7%) are falling behind the rest of the nation. Many of the states with the highest overall enrollments also have low shares of adult learners. These states include California (8.3%), Texas (9.6%), and New York (12.6%).
Identifying Occupations to Target
Low Paying, High-Skill Occupations
As many as one in five community college students already have a bachelor’s degree, showing that even degree-holders are potential targets for retraining. So when higher ed institutions market to adult learners, it may be fruitful to target occupations that require a bachelor’s degree but have low median hourly earnings. These workers may be looking for new opportunities.
Check out the following chart, which plots 10 occupations that typically require at least a bachelor’s degree but have low pay. Only occupations with at least 30,000 jobs in 2015 were considered.
There are a lot of substitute teachers (604,043, down slightly since 2010)—the second-lowest paid bachelor’s-level occupation plotted here. Since a credentialing program may help many of these substitute teachers qualify for permanent positions, this occupation may be an excellent recruitment target for your institution.
This list also contains two kinds of communications occupations, two social worker occupations, and two recreation occupations. You may want to keep these groups in mind as you build your recruiting strategy for adult learners.
Middle Skill Occupations
You may also want to focus on recruiting folks who do not yet have a degree.
The following chart shows a sample of occupations that require at least a high school diploma but do not require a four-year degree (also referred to as middle-skill occupations). Because a degree may be required to move up or increase earnings potential, workers in these jobs can be excellent recruitment targets.
If you hover over each bar, you can view details about the occupation, such as the typical entry-level education, jobs growth, and median hourly earnings. This analysis gives you a starting point for your market research.
And as you research these jobs, you can find cases for why workers may benefit from pursuing education. For example, the typical entry-level education for web developers is an associate degree, per the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But in the overall workforce (not just entry-level), far more web developers have bachelor’s degrees (54%) than associate degrees (8%). So in order to stay competitive, workers may need a bachelor’s degree.
It is also likely that higher-skilled workers are rewarded financially. Here’s a breakdown of percentile earnings for web developers, with highest-skill and seniority most likely towards the top, and lowest-skill near the bottom. Of course, regional differences also impact earnings.
Adult Learners Could Be Influential In These Industries
Which industries are adult learners likely to influence? For this analysis, it is helpful to find out where this demographic is currently working. Some of these industries might also make solid recruitment targets, if they fit in with your curriculum.
In the following table, we have provided a list of industries that are projected to grow in the next 10 years and where workers aged 25-34 and 35-44 make up a high share of the workforce (at least 25%).
|Industry||2015 Jobs||2025 Jobs||2015 - 2025 Change||2015 - 2025 % Change||Share of Workers Ages 25-34||Share of Workers Ages 35-44|
|Source: EMSI 2015.3 Class of Worker (wage-and-salary employees)|
|Beer, Wine, and Distilled Alcoholic Beverage Merchant Wholesalers||191,580||254,209||62,629||33%||30%||26%|
|Computer Systems Design and Related Services||1,898,488||2,500,001||601,513||32%||27%||29%|
|Other Financial Investment Activities||450,544||576,934||126,390||28%||27%||28%|
|Other Information Services||236,745||285,468||48,723||21%||36%||28%|
|Wireless Telecommunications Carriers (except Satellite)||160,180||180,801||20,621||13%||35%||27%|
|Activities Related to Credit Intermediation||296,400||331,476||35,076||12%||29%||27%|
|Data Processing, Hosting, and Related Services||296,206||321,082||24,876||8%||25%||28%|
|Cable and Other Subscription Programming||61,723||64,382||2,659||4%||30%||31%|
|Nondepository Credit Intermediation||585,425||608,272||22,847||4%||28%||28%|
There are three computer-related industries in this table: computer systems design and related services; software publishers; and data processing, hosting, and related services.
These industries are known for having hard-to-find talent, depending on the region. So you may be doing a service to your local economy, if you are able to train more adult learners in these areas. This is especially true because adult learners, having been in the workforce before, may be more likely to have the business sense and soft skills that companies crave.
For more on EMSI data—available at the county, MSA, and ZIP code level—or to see how else data can drive success at your institution, visit our university page or contact us. Follow EMSI on Twitter (@DesktopEcon) or check us out on LinkedIn and Facebook.