3 Lessons to Help You Find and Engage Adult Learners

Insights from EAB and LinkedIn

November 19, 2020

Woman working alone in a library

Editor’s Note: This post was co-written by Naomi Fink, a LinkedIn Account Executive. 

Adult learners — including graduate, online, and adult degree completion students — are notoriously difficult for higher education marketers to reach and identify. Unlike traditional undergraduate students, universities can’t pinpoint the exact moment in time when adult learners are ready to enroll.

Both LinkedIn and EAB — an education company that partners with more than 1,700 colleges, universities, and K-12 schools to foster student success at every level — call upon a data-driven approach to identify and engage prospective students. In fact, EAB research has found that 70% of adult learners are stealth applicants. In our partnership, we collaborate to leverage data points from LinkedIn that make it possible to identify and reach these applicants.

In our respective roles at EAB and LinkedIn, we work with Higher Education institutions to help them develop and execute strategies to meet their enrollment growth goals. Based on our experience, expertise, and access to data, we want to share market insights and lessons to help enrollment leaders successfully target and engage this hard-to-reach audience.

Insights into the current state of the Higher Education market

When COVID-19 hit the U.S., many institutions were unsure how to proceed, wondering how this pandemic would impact not only prospective students, but institutions at large. However, plenty of data points increased demand, especially among adult-serving programs. While some prospective students may be slower to make their enrollment decision, schools that continue to market are set up for success by staying top of mind and on the prospect’s short list.

Between January and May of 2020, LinkedIn members searching for online education have more than doubled. In fact, 76% of LinkedIn’s new wave of prospective students are actively in-market. And we’re seeing that these audiences have become more aware of the trustworthiness of the information they are consuming. Higher Education institutions have an opportunity to provide more of this trusted content to attract prospective students. With these market insights in mind, here are three best practices you can call upon to reach and engage your audience of adult learners.

Lesson #1: Harness a variety of traditional and new audience sources

To build a large, right-fit adult learner prospect audience, Higher Education institutions need to take a multi-pronged approach. Here are 4 key sources that our partners have had success with:

  • Consumer analytics. Applying machine learning, EAB identifies new right-fit prospects from a national consumer database of over 200 million U.S. consumers based on a school’s historical student records.
  •  Strategic test-taker targeting. While many institutions already leverage traditional graduate and professional program test-taker lists such as GRE and GMAT, it’s important to ensure that you’re maximizing your reach among high-potential students. At EAB, many of our partners have seen success by strategically expanding test-taker targeting, especially in their primary market.
  • Institutional inquiries, current undergrads, and young alumni. Ensure that you’re leveraging existing affinity for your institution among the audiences that already know you, including your young alumni, undergraduate students, and inquiry pool.
  • The power of first-party data. First-party digital platforms, including social media and ad platforms, offer sophisticated and dynamic new ways to further identify and reach prospects.  For example, LinkedIn uses 17+ unique first-party data points and behavioral targeting options that can help you pinpoint students who are in the right mindset to “return to school.”

Lesson #2: Target and engage students throughout the student journey

Once you’ve identified prospective students, use data to understand your audience and the prospective student flow. Doing so paves the way for you to build an engagement strategy according to where your audience is in their journey to enrollment.

  • After introducing prospects to your institution, you’ll need to nurture them with information that addresses their unique questions and concerns before asking them to apply. In fact, EAB Partner Georgia Southern University saw a 96% higher CTR from LinkedIn members who received a Message Ad after having been nurtured with Sponsored Content in the prior 30 days, compared to those  who had not been nurtured.

Lesson #3: Incorporate all elements of a successful campaign

Multiple elements lead to successful outcomes — it’s also important to be in the right environment at the right time. To succeed, you need to fine-tune what you say (message), where you say it (channel), and when you say it (timing).

  • Message: Stay in tune with trending topics and the subject lines of popular posts on LinkedIn to target audiences engaging at higher rates on the LinkedIn platform. For instance, this post highlights the 10 U.S. cities where employees have the most and least workforce confidence, an index that measures job security, financial situation, and career outlook. Institutions could tap into the potential correlation between lack of workforce confidence and someone wanting to gain additional skills via education.
  • Channel: Make sure the context for your messaging is appropriate and well received. For example, prospective adult learners recently identified LinkedIn as their top social platform when looking for information about programs or schools —making it a prime platform for reaching students who are in the mindset to learn more and engage with your institution.
  • Timing: Because of LinkedIn’s unique first-party data, we know what degrees people have, where they are in their careers, and whether or not they have shown interest in education due to their behavioral habits. Layer this with EAB’s insights and full-funnel marketing strategies, and you are able to effectively reach candidates at the right time.

Consistently analyze your approaches to see how they perform, and how you can get them to perform better. Leverage your expert LinkedIn team to ensure your messaging will be appropriate and effective for your audiences. Listen to the on-demand webinar.   

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