Love and Learn: Helping Students Fall for Your Institution

By Beacon News | Published February 16, 2021 | Categories: Higher Education , Beacon News

Between a decline in traditional student enrollment to major demographic shifts in the country's population, the student cohorts coming to universities in the 2020s will be the most diverse ever.

Though experts in higher education have been forecasting these enrollment changes for years, many colleges are still relying on one-size-fits-all approaches in their recruitment, education and marketing strategies. This is like sending a valentine addressed, "To Whom It May Concern." Just like in love, it's the personal touch that counts.

Start by acknowledging the increasing diversity in today's learners, as well as their varied desires, motivations and perceptions of college. This means saying goodbye to the "traditional student / non-traditional student" view and embracing what makes your prospective students unique.

The Five Future Learners

There is so much more to your prospective students than their age, as research from Pearson and the Harris Poll discovered. By interviewing 2,600 people across the country aged 14-40, they discovered that there aren't two clear types of students—traditional students and everybody else—but rather five. Pearson identified these student types by examining people's attitudes toward college, concerns for cost, and preferred learning styles.

Do you want to make your institution an attractive match for an increasingly diverse pool of prospective students? Then get to know these students and build your messaging and academics to their needs.

The Traditional Learner (The Z Factor)


The traditional student isn’t quite so traditional anymore. The Gen Z students who make up today’s traditional students are not like their Millennial counterparts. They have never known a day without the internet, and as such are adept at navigating it. They’re also highly sensitive to economic volatility. Many saw their parents struggle during the 2008 recession, and they’re seeing it again with the pandemic, so they view college primarily as a path to a career.

Courting the Traditional Learner

Because they know they can learn almost anything from Google or YouTube, traditional learners want their time in class to bring them what they can’t get anywhere else. They want to learn ahead of lectures and put their knowledge to immediate use in the classroom. Focus on impactful interactions with professors, hands-on learning projects with peers and valuable research and internship opportunities.

The Hobby Learner (Learning for Fun and Fulfillment)

bbh-singapore-k4iGIhYwrl0-unsplash-1.jpgThis learner is older and is more interested in college to learn new things or improve their job prospects. Most in this group do not have degrees and don’t believe they need one for their current jobs. They’re independent learners with a high capacity for learning, but are very concerned with cost. With this group making up 24% of learners surveyed, it’s crucial to consider their needs and concerns if you want to improve admissions.

Wooing the Hobby Learner

As a group of mostly older adults, Hobby Learners value flexibility, cost-effectiveness and a mix of traditional and digital learning styles. Many of them are already settled in careers but are willing to expand on their knowledge if college offerings are flexible and affordable enough. Consider designing shorter programs and providing alternative credentials to satisfy their desire for knowledge without creating too great a demand on their time. Incorporate both digital tools and strong in-person learning experiences.

The Career Learner (Learning for a Job)

van-tay-media-pc_HmXZ0e_w-unsplash-1.jpgComprising 19% of learners (and growing), the Career Learner views college as a means to an end. They may enjoy campus life and high academic rigor, but their primary concern is getting a job after graduation. More than half of this segment is already in college, and many of these are highly practical Gen Z students with strong preferences for digital learning.

Making Your School Attractive to the Career Learner

Show them you mean business about getting them into the workforce. This means more than referring them to career services; it means building meaningful co-ops, internship opportunities and skills-based courses into your curricula. Focus on project-based learning experiences to help them build the “soft skills” many employers find lacking in recent college graduates.

The Reluctant Learner (Learning Because They Have To)

david-kennedy-4WnlU07YZ98-unsplash-2.jpgOf the learners surveyed, the Reluctant Learner made up 17%, with an even spread of degree holders, non-degree holders and currently enrolled students. These learners describe themselves as average students with a very low motivation to learn. Many have little regard for higher education outside of what is expected of them to get a job, and they are easily dissuaded by the high price tag associated with college.

Winning Over the Reluctant Learner

Reluctant learners like to learn on their time and require the high-touch, supportive environment that face-to-face courses bring. Bring them the best of both worlds by allowing them the ability to mix online and in-person classes on a flexible academic calendar that gives them the room they need to overcome doubts about their academic performance.

The Skeptical Learner (Wary of Learning)

andrey-zvyagintsev-Eyg5Z7ARjWk-unsplash-2.jpgComprising 15% of learners surveyed, the Skeptical Learner sees little return on investment when it comes to college and tends to describe themselves as average or below average in the classroom. While many in this group enjoy the social aspects of college, most have never enrolled in or completed a degree program.

Convincing the Skeptical Learner

Break down their doubts about higher education’s value by creating low-cost alternative certifications and providing valuable opportunities to apply their learning—think apprenticeships, internships, etc. Help them overcome negative self-perceptions of their performance by providing access to intensive academic support services.

Trading Cookie-Cutter for Tailor-Made


Pearson's model is just one way to look at the increasingly diverse student cohorts coming to universities. The Harvard Business Review organized students into five categories based on the "Job to Be Done" model. However you choose to differentiate them, you must look beyond the binary traditional/non-traditional model. When students don't feel seen or heard, they're far less likely to consider your college or university a fitting match.

If your institution is ready to woo the next generation of students, let Beacon be your partner in sharing your message with our website redesign and digital marketing services.

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