Enrollment by traditional students is falling, and colleges are looking for other ways to fill the enrollment gap. At the same time, employers are dealing with a troubling gap of their own. The skills gap. With unemployment near record lows and job demands altered by technology, there simply aren’t enough skilled workers to do essential jobs.
Enter the post-traditional student. These students are already in the workforce. They’re older, more money conscious, and have less time to devote to school. They are also eager to gain the opportunities that higher education can provide.
By working together with employers, colleges and universities can remove the barriers between post-traditional students and the education they desire. The result is a win-win-win. The student/employee receives better career prospects. Employers gain with more qualified employees. Schools with more post-traditional students to fill the enrollment gap left by shrinking traditional student populations.
Barriers to post-traditional student enrollment
To earn college degrees and advance their careers, most working post-traditional students must overcome two major barriers: money and time. Many students who would like to attend college can’t because these barriers stand in their way. However, collaboration between colleges and employers can break down these barriers, and help more students enroll.
When surveyed by Aslanian Market Research, about one third of post-traditional students said they didn’t attend post-secondary education after high school because of money concerns. For many students this concern follows them into their working lives. In the same survey, 49 percent of post-traditional students said cost of tuition and fees were among their top two most important factors in choosing a college.
Employer engagement partnerships can help post-traditional students break through this barrier. If the employer supports working students with tuition assistance or tuition reimbursement, employees doesn’t have to worry as much about tuition and fees. They can focus instead on earning their credential.
Many post-traditional students are already in the workforce. If they’re enrolling as part of an employer partnership program they’re either already established employees or they are new hires who need a degree to meet the demands of the job. Either way, they’re busy people. They don’t have the leisure to make study a full time job.
Institutions can help break down this barrier in two ways. First, by providing flexible course schedules, online courses and longer timelines for degree degree completion. Second, by encouraging employer partners to support employees. Workday study time or shortened work hours can help employees make time for school while still getting their jobs done.
How to build employer engagement partnerships
When you start looking, you’ll likely find many employers eager to partner with a reputable school. Especially if they’re operating in a fast-paced industry like allied health, marketing, information services, or technology. These, and many other, industries are changing quickly. Employees need to keep upskilling to remain effective. Employers know this, but don’t necessarily have the expertise or resources to help workers need. Your institution might just be the solution they’re looking for.
Partnering with employers isn’t always easy. Although many employers see the theoretical benefit of working with institutions of higher education, most don’t understand how colleges and universities work. Higher education tends to move at a slower pace than the business world, and sometimes it seems that academia and business speak different languages.
The first step toward building a successful employer engagement partnership is getting everyone on the same page. You can do this by:
- Convening a round table – Invite local business owners, or local representatives of national and international businesses. Ask them what their biggest challenges are when it comes to upskilling employees or finding qualified talent. How do they believe your institution could help?
If you’re not sure who to invite, advisory board members and alumni groups can help you draft a guest list. They may be business leaders themselves, or be able to connect you with friends and colleagues who are. Don’t forget other organizations that may hold a stake in workforce building. The local chamber of commerce, labor unions and human services agencies are likely all eager to upskill more adult learners.
- Assigning a liaison – Businesses are adept in their own internal politics, but that doesn’t mean they’re comfortable dealing with academic bureaucracy. Whenever possible, assign a contact person within your institution who can help employers navigate within the school system. This person might help connect business leaders to decision makers within the college, or explain legislative and regulatory barriers that may arise.
- Communicating openly and often – Both your institution and the employer want the student to succeed and earn a credential. However, you may have different visions for how to make this happen. It’s important to understand the employers goals and expectations and to clearly articulate those of the school so everyone can get the most out of the partnership – including the students.
To make partnership attractive to employers, your school may need to adjust it’s curriculum. While a curriculum change can be a slow, labor intensive process, reasonable adjustments may be well worth the effort. Not only can they help you secure an employer partner, they also ensure that your students are getting the training they need to succeed in the workforce.
Market your partnership
For employers seeking a learning partner, the options seem endless. Employers could bring in trainers, provide tuition assistance, give access to online classes, on the job training or apprenticeships. Ultimately, each of these solutions is relevant to different roles and levels of responsibility. Your marketing should help employers understand why it’s worth investing in college degree programs or professional certification for their employees.
Here’s how to do it:
- The roundtable mentioned above should give employers a good idea of how partnering with your institution can help them reach their goals. Follow up with all attendees to answer any lingering questions.
- You should create a website landing page and print collateral aimed at employers interested in becoming a partner. Explain what partnership can do for them. What goals will it help them achieve? What kind of support is included?
- Make the benefits clear. You might give a discount to employers who send employees to your college or university. Or you might provide recruitment priority, giving them access to your student body for presentations, career fairs and interviews.
- Create customized marketing collateral aimed at the student workers themselves. Let them see that you understand the barriers they face and are ready to help students overcome them.
Partnering with employers to recruit post-traditional students can be a mutually beneficial arrangement for all involved. For colleges and universities open to new possibilities in student recruitment, the traditional student enrollment gap may just represent a whole new realm of opportunity.