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Tools of the Trade
9/15/2015 12:00 AM

From videos and pictures to stories and background information, there are so many things to think about when creating a website with appealing and effective content.

Amelia PavlikFrom videos and pictures to stories and background information, there are so many things to think about when creating a website with appealing and effective content.

At the Georgia Institute of Technology, I oversee communications and marketing for the Office of the Vice Provost for Graduate Education and Faculty Development. This includes our unit that handles graduate admission — Graduate Studies (

Last year, I was asked to redesign the unit’s website into one that would be useful to prospective and current students and the Tech faculty and staff who support them. The previous site was poorly organized, hard to navigate, and focused on basic admission information.

The only problem is that I’m a journalist — not a Web designer. To help others who are in a similar spot, I recently shared some of the things I’ve learned at the 2015 NAGAP annual conference in New Orleans. Here are my 10 tips for redesign success:

  1. Keep it simple. Animation, videos and other design elements are great ways to enhance a website. But at the core of a strong site is good organization, a clean appearance and informative content. Build one with easy-to-read content and attractive images — and then enhance it over time.
  2. Grab attention with your homepage. First impressions are lasting impressions, which means that your homepage should draw people in. For example, offer big and striking images, news, and event info that is timely and relevant. We also include a Student Recognition box where a few students who have recently been recognized for achievements (i.e., winning a poster competition, getting a fellowship, etc.) are highlighted.
  3. Keep content current. People aren’t going to continue to visit a website with incorrect information. You have to stay on top of whether links, dates, etc. are current. If you have news articles or events on your homepage, have a plan to switch them out on a regular basis.
  4. Determine your target audience, and organize menus accordingly. Create your menus based on your audiences, whether that’s one group or three different groups (like mine). Use feedback from stakeholders to populate the menus. Also, put yourself in the shoes of the people who will be using the site. What would you want to see? But avoid overfilling. If the drop-down menu goes beyond the bottom of your screen, it’s too full.
  5. Don’t duplicate information that others “own.” Our goal is to connect visitors to the site with resources across campus. Much of this information is updated regularly by other units. So, instead of duplicating all of the info that, for example, Parking Services has on its website (that will change regularly), I link to its website. The less content you have to update on a day-to-day basis, the easier your life will be.
  6. Develop creative ways to share information. Use videos. Provide testimonials instead of having an administrator say how wonderful your university is (see the “Why Georgia Tech” section: Split up resources into topics that are represented by images (see the “Life at Tech” section: When you share content in an engaging way, people are more likely to want to return to and further explore your website.
  7. Be conversational. In academia, the inclination is often to use 50-cent words and a formal tone. But let’s face it — this is not going to resonate with many of your visitors. You are competing with Facebook, USA Today, etc. for their attention. Make sure the written information on your site is easy to understand and is written in a conversational tone.
  8. Break up text. No one likes to read a page with a block of words on it. Use bullet points and headers, and limit paragraphs to two or three sentences to break up the text. Also, embed links to websites/additional resources so that it’s easy for folks to find additional information. Ensure that these links are underlined or bolded so they’re easy to pick out from the rest of the text.
  9. Use at least one image per Web page. This goes back to the last point. A page full of text isn’t much fun to read. Especially if you’re new to Web design/development, keep it simple. Aim to have one image per page. I’d also recommend learning a photo editing program like Photoshop, as you will generally need to tweak images before you put them on your website. Also, try to use images that are unique to your institution. Clip art is OK, but it’s not going to give folks a sense of what your institution is all about.
  10. Don’t forget to be consistent. If you’ve used a certain font size or style for text on one page, use it throughout the site. Same goes for headers, bullets, image sizes, etc. When these things aren’t consistent across a website, it can look unprofessional. The same goes for the text. For example, if you’ve been speaking to visitors as “you,” don’t shift to a less conversational tone.
Generating Opportunities
8/13/2015 12:00 AM

“Learning doesn’t begin at day one of classes — it begins at enrollment,” said Daniel Herbst, dean of student affairs at Chandler-Gilbert Community College in Arizona.

SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS — “Learning doesn’t begin at day one of classes — it begins at enrollment,” said Daniel Herbst, dean of student affairs at Chandler-Gilbert Community College in Arizona.

In a recent session at the American Association of Community Colleges annual convention, Herbst and his colleagues shared their experience redesigning their enrollment processes to better serve students. A new building brought the relevant offices under one roof and gave officials the opportunity to design a space that suited their process.

Herbst explained that the new building and process redesign came from a realization within CGCC that the previous process did not meet the needs of the student population that CGCC served. CGCC’s student population includes 36 percent first-generation students, 17 percent single parents, 7 percent international students, and 4 percent veterans — hardly a traditional 18–24-year-old student body makeup. To combat any potential barriers to students making it from admission to their first class, Herbst and Linda Lujan, president of CGCC, decided to take action. “Recent findings show that 46 percent of adult learners will take a class within the first semester of applying to college,” said Herbst. “Since adult learners make up a significant amount of our student population, we wanted to make sure we were retaining as many students as possible from the enrollment stage on.”

The enrollment redesign was centered around moving students through the four major areas of enrollment — admissions, orientation, financial aid and advising — in an efficient and easy manner by consolidating the different areas of enrollment services into one building and by designating specialists in each area to better serve students’ needs. The goal is to guide students from the parking lot through graduation, Herbst said.

All enrollment services are located in one building and one centralized space, with a tiered approach to all services offered. Students first approach a central desk, considered the “triage” zone, and encounter one of the front-line staff members on hand who know all the answers to all “tier one” information. Any generalized questions about enrollment processes and practices can be answered here by any staff member. The second zone of the office is a student self-help center, with resources available for students to peruse on their own. If the student’s issue is something more specialized, such as a specific question about her financial aid package, the front-line staff member directs her to a booth in the third zone where she will speak one on one with a specialist who can answer her specific question. Part of the role of the front-line enrollment technicians, as Herbst calls them, is to know which specialized enrollment team member to designate to each student’s needs. And 95 percent of the time, Herbst reports, students receive immediate personal service from enrollment services technicians.

Finally, the fourth and final zone available to students is reserved for students farther along in the college process and provides resources and staff available to answer questions on educational planning and goal setting.

Students stay in one place after their initial consultation and different specialists come to them, helping to keep the student foremost in focus. Even if a student meets with several different team members specializing in different areas, she remains in place and lets the staff members come to her. Herbst says this helps to create a student-focused enrollment center and decrease any apprehension students might face about having to travel to multiple buildings or offices to work through their issues. By keeping all resources housed in one large office space, CGCC has kept the physical barriers that might prevent students from seeking enrollment services help low. All students know all enrollment questions can be answered from one location.

Herbst created weekly trainings to review information and processes so that all front-line staff members received uniform training on “tier one” information and customer service. These trainings form a core of knowledge within enrollment services so that students can receive prompt attention. Even student workers are expected to know all answers to “tier one” questions. Each weekly training involves posing this question to each staff member: What do you get asked about our department that you don’t know? Staff are encouraged to share their knowledge gaps and crowdsource answers to these questions for a culture of constant learning within the enrollment services unit.

Save costs by thinking outside strict role definitions

Herbst and Lujan helped to manage costs for this new enrollment services center in a couple of ways. First, the tiered information approach allows for staffing by student workers. Student workers are stationed up front and are expected to be as well-versed in front-line knowledge as any other workers in tier one. They attend weekly meetings and trainings but are paid on a more modest scale than specially hired enrollment specialists.

With 72 percent of all students at CGCC applying for financial aid, more staff members are needed to meet financial aid needs and answer questions from students. Herbst and Lujan strategically hired administrators with financial aid backgrounds as specialists, knowing that this area was going to consume a larger portion of enrollment services staff time than other concerns. Another specialized concern for CGCC comes from the 75 placement and academic tests offered at the school. Hiring workers to be well-versed in both financial aid and placement tests cut down on the total number of staff members the division needed and helped the unit focus on addressing student concerns. These enrollment services administrators, known around the CGCC enrollment services building as the “triage unit,” command the highest salary, but also meet the most needs of students.

Finally, Herbst and Lujan were able to use capital reserves from their college for the new building by proposing it as a mixed-function building. The new building, which Herbst referred to as the crown jewel of CGCC, also houses athletics services. By housing multiple functions at the building, Herbst and Lujan were able to reduce the amount of the total to be paid by the enrollment services center.

Tear down barriers to student success

Herbst noted that the three major types of deterrents that keep students from enrolling in college after acceptance are:

  • Situational. Nontraditional students need a variety of options available for accessing enrollment services. Consider whether you might be better able to serve your students by offering online enrollment services and night and weekend access for adult students, who might have to schedule around full-time jobs and families.
  • Institutional. Oddly enough, it’s easy to overlook simple institutional barriers that might keep students from successfully enrolling. “Envision your college and walk across the street — what do you see?” Lujan suggested as a method to help re-envision what barriers students might perceive. Consider the front door, the parking lot and the signage posted, Lujan said. Does it all lead to a clear and easy enrollment process? Do students know where to go to get into the enrollment services building?
  • Dispositional. Dispositional barriers might be the hardest to tackle of all, since they are created through the psychology of students. Common dispositional barriers include the belief that higher education is not worth the student’s time and that it gets in the way of more important responsibilities, such as family or job duties — a concern particularly common to nontraditional students. By keeping students at the center of the physical enrollment services process — not forcing them to move from queue to queue to find the help they seek — and by offering services both online and at times outside of the traditional work week, CGCC officials believe they have cut down on the dispositional barriers their student population faces.
7/15/2015 12:00 AM

SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS — At the latest count, there are 21.8 million veterans in the United States. Of these, 92 percent already have a high school diploma and only 26 percent have a bachelor’s degree. Often, even veterans who have already obtained a degree find college to be a different experience than they remembered.

SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS — At the latest count, there are 21.8 million veterans in the United States. Of these, 92 percent already have a high school diploma and only 26 percent have a bachelor’s degree. Often, even veterans who have already obtained a degree find college to be a different experience than they remembered.

“The transition into the military wasn’t an overnight process,” explains Odell Kelley, veteran affairs coordinator at San Antonio College in Texas. “We can’t expect the transition into higher education to be one, either.”

Veterans face unique challenges on campuses that might not be forefront in the mind of enrollment and administrative staff. Common issues to keep in mind when dealing with a student-veteran include:

  • Veterans often face negativity, whether outright or more subtly, from other students in regard to their record of service.
  • Military credit may not be accepted or transferable to your institution — how can you work with veterans to ensure they receive proper credit for military service?
  • Orthopedic concerns for some veterans make navigating crucial classrooms and service centers difficult.
  • The size and scope of the institution can often feel overwhelming for a student-veteran who is coming from a more regimented base background.
  • Student-veterans often suffer from elevated levels of mental stress and/or post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms and triggers.
  • Students still actively engaged in military service face an added barrier to completion, in that their education might be interrupted for nine to 13 months while serving a tour of duty.

The way colleges, and particularly enrollment services, manage these issues can be the difference between retaining and losing student-veterans. At the recent annual American Association of Community Colleges convention, Kelley, Kimberly Lourinia from Excelsior College, and Sylvia M. Jackson Rodriguez from the Texas Department of Veterans Affairs presented the example of college student and veteran Renee, who spent 17 years in college and attended nine different institutions before completing her college degree and eventually completing her doctorate in education. Although a recent study conducted by the Department of Veterans Affairs found there was not a significant difference in the rates of completion between veteran and civilian students, veterans often transfer colleges multiple times to find the right fit.

Lourinia’s campus has a population of 38,000 students, of whom 40 percent are either active-duty or veteran students. In response to this high percentage of student-veterans, officials at Excelsior College have developed the online Lt Col Bryant A. Murray Veterans Center to help student-veterans navigate their campus. This online center provides a webinar series as part of its Military Education Center for veterans to help them navigate different aspects of life within higher education institutions. Webinar topics include information on using veteran benefits, veteran strategies for college success, and suicide prevention strategies for students struggling with mental health issues.

Other helpful resources provided for veterans on the site include an overview of need-to-know information about the institution, including a glossary, a PDF on disability services offered at Excelsior, and information on the course Excelsior offers exclusively for veterans about student success. The center also provides discussion boards, vet-to-vet testimonials on the transition to college from the military, and connection areas for student-veterans to find mentors. The site also includes a Moment of Silence page for fallen comrades and students from Excelsior.

This one-stop shop makes it easy for student-veterans to find answers to many of the immediate questions they may have about the transition to higher education, while also providing a simple and quick link to contact an Excelsior administrator for any questions not answered by the site.

Learn more at

Prevent student-veteran attrition by personalizing processes

Rodriguez provided practical examples of ways that college officials and administrators can ease the transition process for many veterans and remove the barriers that keep veterans from being successful at universities. These include:

  • Allow veterans who want to discuss enrolling to park as close as possible to the building when they come to visit, and meet them outside in front of the building. Make sure your buildings and offices are clearly and non-confusingly marked. This is especially important for disabled vets, for whom disability may provide a barrier to even getting through the enrollment door.
  • Institute a warm handoff for student-veterans when moving them from your office to any other. Examples of this include physically escorting them to their next appointment, offering to make enrollment and/or administrative services appointments for them, and taking the time to make special introductions to need-to-know staff and faculty for the student.
  • Designate, or personally volunteer, a staff member to guide student-veterans through all e-benefits at their disposal, ensuring that they have full knowledge of the benefits to which they are entitled.
  • Offer and publicize opportunities for vocational exploration. Provide personal referrals into the local Veterans Affairs Center for added resources for students.
  • Encourage student-veterans to take advantage of tutoring services on campus — this not only provides needed educational guidance, but also helps create relationships with other students.
Leaders & Innovators: Paul Kyle, dean of student services and success, Johnson County Community College
3/23/2015 12:00 AM

At one time, officials at Johnson County Community College, which enrolls many adult learners, could take an “If we build it, they will come” approach to recruitment. In fact, the college didn’t have a recruiter until 2007, said Paul Kyle, the dean of student services and success. But officials realized recruiting was necessary. And they needed to do a better job retaining students.

At one time, officials at Johnson County Community College, which enrolls many adult learners, could take an “If we build it, they will come” approach to recruitment. In fact, the college didn’t have a recruiter until 2007, said Paul Kyle, the dean of student services and success. But officials realized recruiting was necessary. And they needed to do a better job retaining students.

Now Kyle and officials from across the institution are creating a strategic plan that integrates enrollment and academic goals. Officials on the academic and services side realized they had to work together.

“You do your thing and we’ll do our thing and hope it works out” wasn’t an effective approach, Kyle said.

The strategic planning initiative requires culture change to get units to collaborate — both to create the plan and to pursue cross-division efforts to achieve goals.

Kyle heads the enrollment team for the strategic planning process. His team includes officials from academics, curriculum, marketing and other units. The enrollment team is focusing on a comprehensive recruitment plan, and the academic team is looking at ways to boost retention. But they realize those go hand in hand, Kyle said. Officials on all the committees focus on the question “How does it impact students?”

“It’s not about us, what is convenient for us in terms of what we offer. It’s about maintaining the quality of education,” Kyle said.

JCCC’s planning and culture change initiatives are driven in part by hard economic facts. Students are asking “What’s in it for me?” Kyle said. Officials need to do a better job of helping them to see how college will help them and their families down the road.

And officials also need to do a better job interacting with students early on — thinking in terms of retaining students while they are still prospects.

Kyle and his colleagues are determining what they can do to prepare students before they get to the classroom and to help them understand the institutional culture before their first day of school. When students drop out, 80 percent of the time the cause is not in the classroom, Kyle said.

To retain students, officials must first convince them that they are capable of going to college and that they have the assets to succeed. Students ask, “Do people like me go here?” If they aren’t clear that the answer is yes, one little thing can cause them to falter, Kyle said.

To improve prospective students’ first interactions with the college, Kyle is creating purposeful activities that engage them. Research shows that if a student connects with another student, a faculty member and a staff member, the college has a 44 percent better chance of retaining him.

So when prospects visit JCCC, officials try to help them make those connections. Visitors are given brightly colored backpacks to wear around campus. Faculty and staff members are encouraged to say hello to anyone they see wearing those backpacks.

Admissions staff members also guide visitors to areas where they will meet a staff member, a faculty member and a student. If all three of those people say the same thing, one might say it in a way that the prospective student hears best, Kyle said.

“It’s relational,” Kyle said about recruiting and retaining students. “That’s not always easy.”

Also, when prospective students visit the success center, an advocate sits down to speak with them. Some adults might not want to go on the typical campus tour. The advocate will help the student begin to design a plan, Kyle said. Or if an orientation is about to start, the advocate will invite the student to participate. And before the prospect leaves, the advocate will help him plan his next step for enrolling.

Help students adjust to institution culture

If adult learners can cross the gap from their culture of origin to the culture of the institution, they have better chances of success in college, Kyle said. There are two questions they need to be able to answer to make the transition:

  • Do people like me go here? “If they can’t answer that, they probably won’t come or stay,” Kyle said. If they enroll, they will look for reasons why they shouldn’t be in college after all.
  • Do I have the assets to succeed? Many adults juggle school with work, and must get children to school every morning. “If you can do that, you can do everything,” Kyle said. But the students might not have realized how they can apply their skills to going to class and studying.
  • They also need to understand that college officials aren’t asking them to leave their families behind, he said.

For more information, you may contact Paul Kyle at


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  • Meet the Editor

    Joan Hope
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    Joan Hope became editor of Recruiting and Retaining Adult Learners in 2014. She brings years of experience in higher education and journalism to her work.
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