Home News As colleges stare down declining demographics, now is the time to support adult learners – Higher Ed Dive

As colleges stare down declining demographics, now is the time to support adult learners – Higher Ed Dive

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Recruiting nontraditional students can buoy enrollment, but appealing to them may require new approaches, writes CAEL’s Becky Klein-Collins.

Undergraduate enrollment trends look bleak for colleges and universities, with another dire prediction ahead: a declining number of high school graduates.

But the nation’s postsecondary institutions need not be victims of a single disturbing trend. If demography is destiny, higher education can shift its focus to an entirely different demographic category: adults with no college credentials.

Enrollment woes in the postsecondary world are real. The pandemic depressed fall 2020 undergraduate enrollment by 3.6% overall — and by more than 10% at community colleges. Meanwhile, a recent report from the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education found that the number of new high school graduates each year — colleges’ go-to source for students — will begin a long-term decline in 2026. Admissions officers won’t turn this ship around by relying primarily on new high school graduates.

Meanwhile, almost half of Americans ages 25 to 64 don’t have a postsecondary credential, according to an analysis by the Lumina Foundation, even as evidence mounts that workers will need them in order to access the jobs we expect will shape our post-pandemic recovery. Labor market analytics firm Emsi recently predicted that the occupations likely to thrive in 2021 will be in mid-skill and higher-skill industries like logistics, healthcare, tech and the skilled trades.

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