Back to School: Tips for Marketing Adult Education Services


Back to school season is here, but this time of year isn’t just for the kids anymore. Adult education is going through the roof. These days, the number of adults — including those with college degrees — who are going back to school is constantly increasing.

People are interested in expanding their skills. They want to boost their chances at finding a higher-paying job or landing a promotion. Many hope to acquire new abilities based on marketplace demand. Still, despite the interest in adult education programs, it can be hard for providers to find an audience.

If you’re in the adult education market, how can you tap into the immense demand for skill-building programs? More importantly, perhaps, how will you stand out from your competitors?

Armed with a savvy approach to content marketing, you can spread the word — and the buzz — about your programs. The right approach will help you increase enrollment and simultaneously help your students embrace new, exciting futures.

1. Be a myth buster.

There are plenty of different reasons that adults consider going back to school or entering a training program. The flip side to that is that there are at least as many reasons why they express some hesitancy about the process.

One way to break through that anxiety is to address some of the major myths and misconceptions about adult learners and education programs. For example, it’s common for older adults to worry that they’ll be the oldest person in the classroom. They also worry that taking on new skills later in life will be too difficult.

In reality, students return to school or enter training programs at all ages and from a variety of backgrounds. It’s important to stress that everyone can be successful. When students feel like returning to school won’t cause embarrassment or frustration, they’re more likely to enroll. After that, they’re more likely to express the kind of excitement and determination that will help them meet their goals.

2. Find your audience.

Another critical element to successfully marketing your adult education programs is knowing your audience and where to find them. However, this is easier for some programs than others.

For example, if you offer a CPA exam prep program, you’ll want to market it through related channels. These might be through the schools where prerequisite courses are taught or in partnerships with exam registration sites. You can highlight the statistical benefits of taking such courses, present testimonials from other students, and outline your offerings. The same is true for any other kind of test prep course.

Of course, other adult education programs can be much harder to promote because your audience is more disparate. If you offer training in a trade, where should you market that? To get the word out about your program, you may want to connect with job listing sites, local career centers, and even more traditional educational venues.

Don’t adopt too narrow a view of who might be interested in your adult education program. With more degree holders pursuing certification in a trade, now’s the time to acknowledge that your target audience may be changing.

3. Promote progressions.

Many adult education programs can be described as “one and done.” However, the reality is that — no matter someone’s career path — there is always room for growth and progression. Growth often entails taking more courses for advancement and continuing education purposes.

In traditional settings, we might talk about this approach as driving re-enrollment or matriculation. However, in marketing language, this means that you need to use your content to drive customer retention. What can you offer that will keep them coming back?

Among the most important aspects you’ll want to highlight when working to encourage repeat enrollments is how students can benefit from further coursework. Be careful to showcase the interesting options available to more advanced students as well as changing workforce requirements. This means doing some research. What are the industry standards for promotion or continuing education?

It’s easy to keep students coming back when it’s absolutely required by their employers. However, you want them to be excited by your services and offerings without a need for prodding. Coming to you out of stagnation or compulsion doesn’t provide a great source of motivation. That means making your services stand out in quality, cost, and overall experience.

4. Embrace the power of partnerships.

Among the many ways that adult education programs today expand their reach and communicate their services to their target audience is by building connections with other organizations. For example, some adult education programs are collaborating with major corporations to offer their employees opportunities to pursue college degrees or certification programs.

Though most programs don’t have the scale to make such large connections — could you handle the volume if hundreds or thousands of students signed up for your programs all at once? — partnering with local businesses that want to help staff develop advanced skills might be a viable option.

You provide the background information and the courses. Businesses bring in the students, many times with the prospect of obtaining a raise or advancement. We are living in a moment of “upskilling” and “reskilling,” equipping people who have jobs with new or more advanced skills for a changing marketplace. Partnerships such as these are ideal drivers of engagement.

5. You might have a shifting market, but the process is the same.

Marketing adult education programs may involve presenting content that’s different than marketing other services. However, the processes are fundamentally the same. Whether you’re sharing your message via blogs or newsletters or in infographics on social media, content marketing typically embraces the same core approaches and platforms.

Your goal, then, is to optimize the educational content you offer rather than just flooding the field. And most importantly, at the end of the day, it’s all about knowing who your audience is. You need to learn how to connect with them. You want to be sure that they can see the benefits of what you’re offering.

Some people have a deep and abiding love of learning, no matter what the topic. However, others require a tougher sell to engage, even when your offering is to their advantage. Arm yourself with the facts about what learning a new skill, taking a test prep course, or earning a degree can offer. With that knowledge, you can connect with even the most reluctant students, encouraging them to expand their minds and pursue what motivates them.