Conversations with higher education leaders about re-engaging, retaining, and graduating adult students.

David Sprott is a long-time higher education authority with over 30 years of experience. He strongly believes in the impact an inclusive approach to education has on the betterment of society and serves as an inspiring voice for both faculty and students in his role as the Henry Y. Hwang Dean and a professor of marketing in the Peter F. Drucker and Masatoshi Ito Graduate School of Management. He is also a faculty member at the University of St. Gallen in Switzerland.

Sprott began his career as a researcher, having his work published in an extensive list of journals such as Journal of Applied Psychology, Journal of Consumer Research, Journal of Marketing, Journal of Marketing Research, and Journal of Retailing. He has personal experience with both teaching and managing academic programs designed for adult students. 

For our new series of Perspectives in Higher Education, Dr. George Rohde sat down with Sprott to find out how institutions can focus on bringing back adult learners in 2023. 

Rohde: Can you tell us about your background in higher education and how it led you to become an advisory board member at myFootpath?

Sprott: I have been working in higher education for over 30 years. After graduating with my Ph.D. in Marketing from the University of South Carolina, I started my career as a research professional. During my education, I realized the incredible impact of higher education and its ability to mobilize groups of people and affect society on a larger scale. Now, as the Dean and a marketing professor at the Peter F. Drucker and Masatoshi Ito Graduate School of Management, I see this impact firsthand. As an advisory board member for myFootpath, I am excited to inspire adult students to understand the impact that a college education can have on their lives.

Rohde: Throughout your career, what trends have you observed among universities regarding the reenrollment and reengagement of adult students?

Sprott: Over the past 10 to 15 years, I have not seen a major shift in focus regarding the reengagement of adult students. Universities still focus on retaining students and monitoring their dropout rates instead of reengaging those who have dropped out. There is a belief that once a student is out of the college system, they are “gone” and will eventually decide to reenroll themselves when the time is right. With the “enrollment cliff” approaching and the value of higher education being questioned, universities are monitoring enrollment more than ever. Therefore, it is essential for universities to look at their stop-out population, monitor it, and work towards reenrolling these adult students. I believe this deficit is partly due to universities not fully understanding the adult student population, which is why myFootpath’s work is so vital.

Rohde: Why do you think universities don’t understand the niche, adult student market?

Sprott: Higher education can be ageist as college is designed to be a transition from youth to adulthood. Institutions continue to market to the 18-year-old high school graduate, leaving the adult student to figure out the process of enrolling in college and finding a career path on their own. To empower these older adults, we have created the SOAR program at the Drucker School of Management. It is a mid-life transition program for adults aged 40-70 who are looking to decide what they want to do next in life, academically or professionally. I believe this program, as well as myFootpath, are the start of a trend we will see grow in the future as college enrollment decreases nationally.

Rohde: What are your professional goals for 2023 in your roles for myFootpath and as the Dean at the Drucker School of Management?

Sprott: My main goal is to continue to encourage positive change in society through the power of education. Peter Drucker’s approach to leadership and management centered on human beings. Therefore, in line with myFootpath’s business model, I want to use my expertise as a marketing professor to advance the mission of reengaging adult students, resulting in degree completion and, on a larger scale, a more educated society.