Conversations with higher education leaders about re-engaging, retaining, and graduating adult students.
myFootpath’s mission is to help universities transform lives by engaging and graduating nontraditional students who may have stumbled along the path to degree completion. In our previous “Perspectives in Higher Education” column, we set out to learn how the pandemic shaped online learning and the outcomes of adult learners. As we tackle the challenges of 2023, we are focused on two macro trends – an increasing population of stop-outs and broad population declines that are expected to significantly decrease university enrollment. As universities reengage stop-outs, they can not only help more students complete degrees but also significantly impact their own enrollment. Yet, the reengagement strategy is still emerging as institutions work to understand and build internal expertise. As myFootpath has built a deep and rich understanding of adult students and how to reengage them, these two market trends present a tremendous opportunity to collaborate with universities and significantly impact the higher education industry.
In our new series of “Perspectives in Higher Education,” Dr. George Rohde sat down with industry leaders to find out how institutions can focus on bringing back adult learners in 2023. His first conversation was with myFootpath’s CEO and Founder, J.T. Allen. Read the edited excerpts from their conversation below.
Rohde: 2022 was an exciting year for myFootpath. Can you tell us about the growth of myFootpath in 2022 and your goals for the next year?
J.T. Allen: 2022 was a fantastic year for myFootpath. We achieved a 30% increase in revenue and made significant contributions to the retention, marketing, and reengagement of adult students. We measure our overall success by the number of concurrent students that we serve, and we plan to make significant strides on this metric in 2023. We are collaborating with more and more universities, while deepening our current relationships. It’s an exciting time!
Rohde: Why is the adult student market such a focus for myFootpath?
J.T. Allen: There are 39 million students who started but did not finish their degrees, which is 3 million more than before the pandemic. Additionally, it’s estimated that 10 million students applied to university but never attended. This market represents about one-third of the working population and presents a tremendous opportunity. While myFootpath has already helped thousands of adult students earn a credential, our goal is to help universities reduce their stop-out rate to zero. One of our greatest assets as a company in completing this goal is our dedicated team of professionals who break down barriers and help universities graduate students. Institutions are just learning about the emerging opportunity around student reengagement. The challenge is that there is not a lot of internal institutional expertise or dedicated resources to launch comprehensive reengagement campaigns. Our goal is to fill that gap in the market with our expertise.
Rohde: Many universities are not aware of their stop-out population. How does myFootpath help them identify it and reengage these students effectively?
J.T. Allen: With 23 years in the business, we know the adult student market very well. We often find that institutions know adult students a lot better than they think they do. Typically, they have lots of data on former traditional students in their research department. However, as the student ages into an adult student (editor’s note: adult students are typically 25-45) there is often a disconnect between the historical university data and translating that data into reengagement actions. Because of this disconnect between data and action, many universities make two mistakes when evaluating a reengagement campaign – they vastly underestimate the size of a potential campaign and they often are unsure what tools and resources they need to efficiently focus efforts.
We set out to make reengagement easier for universities. Our first step is to show university leaders, typically across different departments, the massive potential surrounding reengagement. We have created an easy, no cost, painless process, that includes our data partnership with the National Student Clearinghouse.
With this analysis in hand, we then work with institutions on the activation strategy. To function efficiently, it’s critical to understand which segments of the institution’s population are most likely to reengage, through which medium, and with what actions. You need the right systems, data, and reports to iterate on the outreach strategy and create success. And, while the recipe often consists of the same ingredients, you assemble the ingredients in different ways, building a custom approach by institution. You waste an awful lot of time and resources if you focus on the wrong areas. Our skill lies in identifying which segments and which actions are likely to get students to reengage and re-enroll quickly, and at scale.
Rohde: What investments and trends are you observing in universities regarding the adult stop-out population and reengagement efforts?
J.T. Allen: During the pandemic, stop-outs increased by almost 10%. More universities are recognizing this increase as a critical issue, but are just starting to work through different actions they can take to reverse the trend. We hope to empower universities to understand the full scope of possibilities surrounding reengagement.
Rohde: Universities often struggle to allocate resources towards reengagement – around data analysis or marketing or student success. How does myFootpath make all three of these goals attainable?
J.T. Allen: Well, step one is to understand the scale and scope of the resources needed for success. Because most universities underestimate the number of students they can successfully reengage, internal initiatives tend to be underfunded. Many times we hear that the institution is going to reallocate a portion of a person’s responsibilities to reengagement. While well-intentioned, without the right tools or in-house reengagement expertise, it is very difficult for these “partial resource reallocations” to succeed at scale. Without a structured approach, most internal resources quickly become overwhelmed with the various student issues.
In contrast, with the deep expertise our team has with reengagement, we can bring speed and scale to any initiative. We deploy specialized talent and technology tools that bring the right data analytics, marketing, and student success resources to the reengagement campaign at the right moments in time This efficiency allows the campaign to grow to its full potential
We structure the financial model so that both our firm and our university partners win. Our collaborative approach to the reengagement problem sets us apart as we create true partnerships and deliver robust financial returns for universities.
Rohde: With the addition of three new members to the advisory board, what impact do you hope they will have on myFootpath?
J.T. Allen: The most crucial aspect we look for when adding members to our team is their passion for adult students. A commitment to making a difference in this demographic is essential for making an impact in higher education. Our three new advisory board members bring a wealth of knowledge and expertise in various areas related to adult learners. Charlie Nguyen, for instance, has a background as an entrepreneur and has implemented large programs at Apollo Education Group and Western Governors University. He brings a dynamic entrepreneurial perspective to the team. Kristine Glein has over 25 years of experience in higher education and offers invaluable knowledge and insights, especially around admissions and retention issues. Finally, David Sprott, with his background as a professor of marketing, brings a unique perspective to our team. He has expertise in engaging adult learners through effective messaging and communication techniques. We are thrilled to have each of their perspectives and cannot wait to work with them.