It’s truth time, folks. In professional and continuing higher education circles, I’ve noticed a pattern of talking about adult students in the abstract—and hand-to-the-sky I can admit I’m part of this as well.
But two decades deep into the 21st-Century, it’s critical we ask ourselves: who are the adults today? Who are we actually talking about when we reference “the adult learner”?
Well, according to the OECD, the working-age population is defined as the group between 15-64 years old. Since we know the importance of a postsecondary credential to accessing meaningful, lasting and high-wage jobs leading to careers, we can probably trim that back to say 21-64 is our target demographic of individuals who might be looking for professional, continuing education (PCE).
In 2019, that means we’re looking for folks born between 1955-1998. Or, from a generational perspective, mostly Generation X (born between 1961-1980) and Millennials (born between 1981-1996). And population statistics tell us there are more Millennials overall than there are Gen Xers.
Just to wrap that up, it means Boomers can’t really figure into programming and student service conversations the way they used to. PCE leaders absolutely have to think differently about who their customers are and what they need from an ongoing learning experience, because it’s changing rapidly.
Importantly, PCE leaders need to think seriously about what Millennials are looking for from their engagement with university continuing education, and find ways to deliver on those expectations.
Millennials didn’t necessarily grow up with the Internet, but access to information has been ubiquitous through their adult years. Younger Millennials are digital natives, and Older Millennials are extremely comfortable with advanced technology. What’s more, they have some common traits when it comes to their expectations of an engagement with a service provider.
According to an Adobe survey, Millennials have extremely high customer experience expectations. They:
Expect high-quality online environments that blend digital and physical
Want instant communication and interactions
Look for opportunities to drive their own experience with self-service
CE divisions have historically been on the forefront of innovating the student experience to account for the expectations of a more discerning, and busier, learner demographic. They made classes available in off hours, and then online. They made student services available during evenings and weekends, and then tried to pioneer one-stop-shop opportunities for their learners.
However, all these service innovations were further iterations on the existing campus infrastructure. To serve the modern adult learner—and to convince them that the university itself is evolving to keep pace with their needs—it’s critical for CE leaders to explore some potentially radical changes that help deliver the experience Millennials expect. Bear in mind that it’s highly likely that a Millennial working professional is carrying student loan debt from their undergraduate or graduate studies.
But meeting their customer expectations shouldn’t be that hard!
For example, why can’t CE divisional websites provide prospective students with as much accurate information as possible so they can make informed decisions without having to contact the university first? After all, the Millennial consumer typically classifies as a “stealth shopper” who does as much research as possible before ever contacting the service provider.
Why can’t they receive immediate provisioning and communications from the institution as soon as they register for an offering? And in the event where an offering requires application, why can’t they see the status of the application as it progresses through the system. Dominos figured out how to give status updates on a pizza-in-progress – surely we can provide postsecondary customers with the same access to information?
Finally, why don’t we give Millennials—who are adults, remember—self-service capabilities so they can manage their own experience as much as possible? It doesn’t make sense that to access a transcript or a receipt, or to process a course drop, they would have to wait for a staff member to serve them. On a related note, imagine how much more time CE divisional staff would have to deal with truly significant student issues if they spent less time on these kinds of automatable tasks.
Today’s adult learner doesn’t really fit the mold of generations past. They’re a savvy, experienced and highly-discerning customer who approaches their postsecondary purchases with the same critical eye as they do a car, house or laptop purchase. It’s absolutely in the best interests of forward-thinking university PCE divisions to follow suit and offer a customer experience that meets their expectations.
The EvoLLLution has compiled an eBook providing more insight into what the modern adult learning is looking for from a CE experience, and shedding light into how to deliver it.