Bringing Back Adult Students Takes More Than a Catchy Campaign

TalkingEDUSmall.jpgHas your institution been trying to tap into the more than 80 million adults nationally who finished high school but never attended college?

If so you’ll be interested in a story about the “evolving effort” at the University of Memphis that Goldie Blumenstyk shared with The Chronicle of Higher Education. These fascinating results illustrate that getting adults to return to the classroom involves much more than a clever slogan or marketing campaign.The state of Tennessee has set a goal of having at least 55 percent of its adult population attain a post secondary degree by 2025. The state is currently at about 41 percent in their “Drive to 55.” This means Tennessee colleges and universities still need another quarter million adults to reach their goal. This doesn’t mean the state isn’t trying. In fact, to attract more adults the state has introduced new programs that offer free tuition at community and technical colleges, as well as a statewide campaign called Tennessee Reconnect which encourages those who’ve dropped out to re-enroll.

Trial and Error

The article details the multiple attempts made by the University of Memphis beginning in 2011 “spurred in part by a change in the state funding formula that rewards institutions with extra money for the adults (and low-income students) they enroll.” The first campaign called “Back on Track” targeted adults who were, “just 30 credits shy of a degree.” The program ultimately failed because the educational experience being offered was no different from what these students had abandoned in the first place.

Offering Options

A second program called “Experience Counts” offered scholarships to students whose eligibility for federal student aid had run out. Rebranded “Finish Line,” the University added dedicated advisors known as “completion concierges” to help returning students find "the clearest, shortest, most efficient path to a degree.” Another program called “Academic Fresh Start” let students drop F’s and D’s from their GPA they had received previously as incentive to return.

For the University of Memphis, the real key to success is to offer a wide range of options:

  • The school made a concerted effort to help students gain credit for prior learning at the lowest possible price through online courses
  • Students could earn additional credit by submitting portfolios for evaluation under previous state standards
  • University faculty re-evaluated corporate-training programs offered by local companies like FedEx and First Tennessee Bank enabling students to earn up to 30 credits for these programs

To learn how the University of Memphis used these flexible options to lower costs and improve completion rates for returning adult students and the two most important factors that are musts for success, click here.

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