You’re Thinking of Traditional Students All Wrong

Forget what you know about ‘traditional students’ – they no longer exist.

This year’s NACAC Annual Conference in Columbus, Ohio, kicked off with a session that examined who today’s students really are. The typical perception of the carefree 18-year-old fresher died in that auditorium. The reality is that 45% of undergraduate American students are over 22, 58% are completely self-funded and 28% are parents or primary caregivers. Only 15% of American undergraduate students complete their degree in the intended 4 years. With these figures, it’s no wonder that student retention/success was the hot topic throughout the conference.

While we in the UK have not seen student attrition at the levels that American colleges and universities have experienced, our student population has moved beyond our standard perception too – with roughly 48% of undergraduates 21 or older[1].

As the traditional student has changed, so must the traditional approach to serving our students.  We need to break the habit of thinking of the typical uni-goer as an eager kid whose full focus is on school and make it a point to remember the large proportion of students who are adults juggling work and family responsibilities.

To continue to fulfil their missions to serve students, universities should understand the challenges, priorities and expectations of the new traditional student. Otherwise, you risk alienating nearly half of UK HE students.

To best serve your mature students and improve completion and satisfaction rates, consider:

  • How do mature students’ schedules differ from that of their younger counterparts and how can we time our support services to accommodate?
  • What are our mature students’ greatest challenges and priorities and what services do we offer that best support these? How do we encourage them to participate?
  • When are mature students most likely to discontinue (the holiday season for instance) and how do we intervene accordingly?

Just re-thinking the idea of the traditional student is a good step forward. To see more UK student retention trends and tactics for improving student engagement, check out our brief eBook.

[1] HESA.