3 Digital Strategies to Attract Non-traditional Learners

August 2, 2023   |  
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Many colleges and universities across the country are building non-traditional programs to attract new learners and overcome enrollment challenges. They’ve read industry reports and survey results, consulted in-house analytics and local businesses, and have even hired faculty and created curricula. Now they are sitting down to undertake the final—and often most challenging—step: marketing these programs to non-traditional learners.

Institutions have spent years perfecting traditional student marketing campaigns. However, marketing to non-traditional learners can be an entirely different undertaking. This is because the objectives driving non-traditional learners are often very different from those driving traditional learners. Similarly, traditional learners tend to enroll for a fall semester, whereas non-traditional learners often respond to social forces like job market changes, family situations, or shifts in life goals, causing them to search for and enroll in classes throughout the year. Additionally, non-traditional learners vary in age and socio-economic status, and they tend to seek information from many sources (web searches, social media, recommendations from trusted colleagues, etc.) rather than school counselors or the College Board.


So, how do institutions effectively market courses to non-traditional students?


1. Build an Effective SEO Strategy

According to an
UPCEA survey of college and university marketing leaders, 84% of respondents said search engine optimization (SEO) is a core part of their marketing strategy. However only 51% of marketing leaders said they have an official SEO strategy. Why so few? Creating a successful SEO strategy often requires a dedicated expert with experience, insights, and knowledge of what to look for and implement. Unfortunately, many institutions don’t have these experts on hand, and asking a staff member to learn SEO from scratch can be difficult and time-consuming.


That said, there are many reasons to invest in SEO: it drives organic traffic to your site, increases your brand awareness, builds brand credibility, helps lead generation, and more. The most significant reason you should be investing time and energy into SEO is to attract non-traditional learners, as most of them start their education journeys by researching via the web.


2. Deploy an Impactful Digital Media Plan

Appearing in a web search isn’t the only way to reach non-traditional learners. Creating and deploying
a targeted digital media campaign is another effective method. According to higher education enrollment marketing experts Spark451, using highly targeted ads that speak directly to a particular program and particular type of student will result in more engagement than a general campaign with broad, generalized messaging.


With this in mind, the first step in creating a digital media plan is to determine your ideal audience. Are you trying to reach middle-aged, college-educated women or tech-minded employees in their early twenties? Identifying your demographic audience will help you determine the best messaging for advertisements and the best digital outlets for reaching those learners.


3. Tailor Your Website to Non-Traditional Learners

If you’ve invested in an effective SEO strategy and deployed a highly targeted digital media campaign, chances are good that your ideal learner will end up on your website. However, if they have difficulty navigating your website or find that your messaging does not resonate, they won’t stay long.


The average user spends only 54 seconds on a webpage. If your non-traditional learner can’t find what they’re looking for quickly, the chances of them leaving your website and visiting a peer institution’s site are high. To ensure your right-fit learners remain on your website long enough to register for courses, you’ll want to prioritize the following optimizations:


  • Creating a storefront marketplace for non-traditional credentials, courses, or certificate programs.
  • Ensuring a seamless shopping and payment process that makes it easy for non-traditional students to register for courses.
  • Using audience-appropriate language, references, and design.

Finding a Partner to Help You Market Non-Traditional Programs


Many institutions in the beginning stages of building and marketing their non-traditional programs are small enough to lack a dedicated marketing department—and this can make steps like research, SEO optimization, and digital media strategies near impossible. In this instance, you may want to look for outside resources to help draw more learners to campus.


Institutions interested in securing outside help to market and grow non-traditional programs should look for companies that offer program management software that is dedicated to continuing education programs. These types of solutions can come equipped with student-oriented features and tools to create online storefronts and simplify registration experiences. But institutions should also look for solutions that offer marketing services as well. Campus Marketplace powered by Jenzabar is one such solution. It combines robust program management software with marketing services offered by Spark451, a Jenzabar company. 

You can learn more about Campus Marketplace powered by Jenzabar here.

Campus Marketplace

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