180-degree Lens: Nontraditional Approaches to Engaging and Retaining Nontraditional Learners

Concurrent Session 4

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Brief Abstract

Today’s students are overwhelmingly nontraditional. Learn how one university has achieved exceptional non-traditional student retention and workplace success utilizing data and a focus on career-relevant skills development.  This discussion will focus on a higher education framework to deliver student ROI and immediate implementation of learned lessons to the workplace.


Lauren Burns is the Senior Vice President for Marketing for Colorado State University-Global Campus. With experience in for-profit higher education and marketing, Lauren has developed and streamlined CSU-Global’s enrollment process for working adults looking to complete their Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees, as well as created cohesion throughout the student lifecycle through all areas from marketing, to enrollment and student advising. Lauren currently oversees CSU-Global Marketing in the areas of advertising, outreach, public relations, communications, and branding.   With a strong background in leading teams and managing operations, Lauren’s experience includes work for Beyond Campus Innovations, Education Sales Management Inc., the University of New Mexico Hospital, and the University of New Mexico. Lauren has a B.A. in Psychology from the University of New Mexico, an M.S. in Management with a specialization in Strategic Innovation and Change Management from CSU-Global, and a graduate certificate in Strategic Marketing from Stanford.

Extended Abstract

Many institutions recognize the rapidly growing sector of nontraditional students.  However, it can be a challenge for colleges and universities to understand the goals and the needs of this growing population, especially when those students are working adults who must also juggle family, community, and financial obligations.  By effectively creating the programs, learning delivery methods, and support processes desired by this student population, institutions across the nation can enlarge and diversify their student populations.

Nontraditional student academic and workplace success through a value proposition requires multiple university departments working toward a common goal. University policies and processes, and information on incorporation of data to facilitate student value and return-on-investment can provide the framework for nontraditional student engagement. CSU-Global has created such an innovative model by connecting nontraditional students with the career-relevant skills that directly and immediately impact their workplace trajectories. 

By breaking through higher learning paradigms that no longer apply to the adult working student, degree and program development can emerge from traditional restrictions to meet the needs of nontraditional students while delivering key workplace skills.  Furthermore, evaluation and data-driven measurements of relevant content on a continual basis is integral to delivering the student-desired outcomes that demonstrate career enhancement, while course content that blends academic theory with workplace application derived from business and industry collaboration is also key.

Additionally, faculty expertise that includes recent work experience in the industries they teach help to ensure students are gaining relevant skills and understanding of real-time active concepts as well as theoretical knowledge.  And within a fully online learning environment, instructors must also be specially equipped with the knowledge, skills, and abilities to effectively and virtually engage and work with students.

In today’s environment of public concern over the value of higher education, and the doubts that persist about the quality of online education in particular, measuring and tracking outcomes to ensure student achievement are important in providing value to workplace industries.  Measurement in the form of national third-party assessments, student and employer survey feedback, scores on industry certification exams, and the deliberate tracking of graduate cohort salaries are some of the other methods used to engage and retain nontraditional students.

By examining all of these components and understanding how they integrate, participants can learn successful approaches to meeting the needs and expectations of nontraditional learners who seek directly applicable skills for workforce performance, business development and career enhancement through bachelor’s and master’s programs.