Higher education marketing for nontraditional students

Studies show that higher education enrollment for “traditional students”—think recent high school grads with few outside responsibilities and parents providing assistance—is down this year. Although these students make up a sizable percentage of the higher education population, enrollment is increasing for another demographic: “nontraditional students” who are older, more diverse, working, single, or married with children

If your goal is to increase student enrollment this fall and next year, rather than relying on a resurgence of traditional students in the post-pandemic world, consider also targeting “nontraditional” students. This shift requires reevaluating your brand, creating engaging content and distributing it in places where nontraditional students spend their time, and developing consistent branding and messaging guidelines and templates.

Evaluating your higher education brand
Evaluating your brand requires the review of four main areas: your reputation, core values, unique strengths, and brand consistency. While an outside agency is best positioned to help you with a comprehensive and unbiased evaluation, you can start by asking a few key questions:  


  • What do the testimonials on your website and in other places say?
  • Are you interviewing nontraditional students and alumni to hear what they have to say about your programs and professors?
  • Are your programs accessible to parents and older/working students?

Core values

  • What values come first for your institution?
  • Do your values reflect the values that are important to the types of students you want to attract?
  • Are your values obvious in every aspect of what you do and in all of your marketing and brand messaging?

Unique strengths

  • What are the core strengths of your higher education institution? 
  • Do you leverage those strengths across all departments, platforms, media, and marketing materials?


  • Is your messaging consistent across different departments?
  • Do you have templates, guidelines, and tools to help ensure your brand message is applied consistently? 

Spreading the word about your higher education brand
Once you’ve audited your higher education brand, make sure it’s ready to work quickly and efficiently to engage your audience and increase nontraditional student enrollment. 

While TikTok and YouTube are the top platforms where traditional students spend their time, LinkedIn is popular with nontraditional students who are considering a career change or need advanced credentials for promotions. With the largest percentages of their demographics between the ages of 25 and 34, Facebook and Instagram are also ideal platforms for marketing to nontraditional students. 

Figuring out where nontraditional students spend their time is only half the battle. You also need to create relevant content, as these students bring a unique set of challenges and pain points to the table. For example, you may need to rewrite your website content to ensure your messaging appeals to diverse student bodies. A large part of your content strategy for nontraditional students should focus on the financial aspect of higher education, which tends to be more challenging for these prospective students. In 2012, The Lumina Foundation found that family and work responsibilities were the two highest-rated issues faced by nontraditional students. Adult learners also cite alumni testimonials, job placement numbers, and career advancement opportunities as top decision criteria when choosing a higher ed institution.

A large part of your content strategy for nontraditional students should focus on the financial aspect of higher education, which tends to be more challenging for these prospective students.

Creating consistent and memorable higher ed marketing content
Siloed departments with decentralized publishing processes are commonplace in higher ed institutions. Working with an experienced team of higher ed designers and content strategists can help you create brand messaging and templated marketing collateral for use across both digital and print media. 

A deliberate content strategy should include:

  • Editorial standards for the “brand voice” and a writing style guide
  • Guidelines on how content should be organized and presented (i.e., content hierarchy)
  • An established workflow for generating and publishing content
  • A clear process on how editorial decisions are made 
  • How to integrate user-generated content
  • What technology systems are needed to support your institution’s communications needs

Content marketing is a time-consuming process, which is why many higher ed institutions rely on external consultants to help develop repeatable processes for creating engaging and memorable messaging. This allows decision-makers to focus on trends in student recruitment, such as targeting nontraditional students, and innovative ways to build connections. 

Statistics show now is the time to pivot your higher ed marketing strategy to attract nontraditional students who are ready to go back to school and level up their careers. Are you ready to take the next step?

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