Adult learners (also known as “student parents”) make up a sizable percentage of the overall student population for higher education institutions. For example, one study found that adult learners over the age of 25 make up 38% of the total undergraduate student population in the United States. However, those numbers are dwindling as adult learner retention rates have been declining over the last few years. 

So how can higher ed institutions fight this trend and boost the retention rate for adult learners?

In many cases, it comes down to 3 key elements: saving your students money, time, and resources.


single mom student parent

1. Money talks for adult learners

It comes as no surprise that adult learners are very concerned with the financial cost of their education. For example, nearly 5 million college students are parents, and the average cost of childcare continues to climb, reaching $9,000+ per child per year. Student parents have to balance their educational and career goals with the immediate needs of their family.

With that in mind, explore options to provide affordable college possibilities for your adult learner population. For example, you could look into a partner program where they can take classes while their children receive free childcare; or you can offer them free access to textbooks and other resources they need for class. Especially since “the number of childcare centers on college campuses has fallen,” student parents are running out of options, and looking to you to provide them.




An adult learner working a job

2. Save your adult learners valuable time

Apart from the purely financial investment required for higher education, college also requires a lot of time from every student. Adult learners often have to juggle multiple responsibilities throughout the week, such as kids, their job, and taking classes.

You can ease the burden by providing adult learners with time-saving opportunities, such as accelerated programs and free access to class counselors or tutors if they need it. Self-paced courses, if feasible, can also offer significant advantages in terms of time management for busy student parents.





Nontraditional student

3. Give adult learners virtual resources

College requires a lot from students. Many adult learners may be seeking higher education opportunities in another state, or simply don’t have the time or resources to attend class in-person. That’s where virtual options can make things so much easier for adult learners.

And it’s been proven valuable. Even though there’s been a slight decline in overall post-secondary enrollment, online enrollment has increased by 4% year-over-year since 2013, and continues to grow at a steady rate.

Apart from virtual classes, also consider implementing other online tools that will be helpful for adult learners. For instance, you could post an interactive campus map as a useful reference for adult learners who are unfamiliar with the campus, but want to learn more about it.







Your adult learners will thank you

The bottom line is that adult learners and nontraditional students are just as important as more “traditional” college students, and deserve an excellent student experience as much as anyone else. By providing them with helpful opportunities in terms of money savings, time savings, and resource savings, you’re almost certain to attract, and retain, a greater number of these valued learners.

As you continue to explore ways to improve adult learner retention, be sure to check out how you can use a digital map to keep them engaged at your institution of learning.

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