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Communicating effectively with post-traditional college students

2 min read

With a juggling act of life, family, and work, communicating effectively with post-traditional learners can seem daunting. But, just like any other cohort of college students, recognizing their unique needs, makes your communication strategy much smoother for staff and students alike.

College campuses today are mostly post-traditional

According to the Association of American Colleges and Universities, 74% of students meet at least one criteria of being post-traditional. They could be employed full-time, taking care of a dependent, delayed in attending college, or attending school part-time.

Think like a post-traditional student

The most important aspect of communication is understanding. Post-traditional students are independent, but need support with the college process. They need flexibility to help balance family life. They need deadline reminders to help them juggle many responsibilities.

Post-traditional students want to start quickly and graduate quickly with a bonafide degree. They might not have a lot of time to chat, but they do need information. The colleges that find ways to reach and guide this ever-growing segment of students will set themselves apart.

Texting best practices for post-traditional students:

  • Be prepared to text and respond after normal office hours
  • Utilize nudges in conjunction with emails to guide them through deadlines
  • Use personalized communication for a better response
  • Be clear and deliberate with messaging

Post-traditional students have more life experience and are more likely to read between the lines or disregard aspirational marketing copy. They also, typically, have established a better sense of personal barriers. So, when sending a message, be unobtrusive, friendly, and to the point.

“The non-traditional college student has become traditional. Of 17 million students attending college this fall, most have some way in which they do not fit the classic model.” - Research done by Alexandria Walton-Radford, Director of the Center for Post-Secondary Education at RTI International

Create a sense of community

Post-traditional students probably don’t have time for campus groups or sports, but that doesn’t mean they don’t crave a genuine college experience. For online learners, consider creating a virtual community or portal that allows students to learn from one another, ask questions of other students, and share insights. The more interaction a student has with people with whom they can relate, the more they’ll feel like they’re being treated like a person rather than a number.

Open forums can also be a great place for students to hold after-hour discussions with instructors, collect lecture notes, or find important information. Your staff would have to ensure a student portal was secure, monitored, and kept up to date.

Help solve their problems

There are many things your institution can do to accommodate post-traditional students. Making events family-friendly and parking more convenient will help with their on-the-go lifestyle. Help them keep pace by sending out a schedule of important dates and deadlines at the beginning of the semester, then follow it up with text reminders. Above all else, make yourself available and ask where they are experiencing difficulties.

“They just felt more comfortable coming in and working with us once we had established that relationship how THEY wanted to establish it, which is very important. We do have to meet our students at the level they want to be met at.” - Nicole Winget, J.D., the Assistant Dean for Student Life in Adult and Online Education at Campbell University

Want to learn more about communicating with this audience?

Check out our webinar with tips on engaging with post-traditional learners.

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