Marketing Adult Education-Plan and Process

Jessamine County Adult Education Program Staff, Jessamine County, Kentucky
Recommended by Ed Mayfield

In evaluating our performance as an adult education provider, it has become clear that whatever we have been doing to promote our services within the community, and to recruit and retain students has not been enough.

The targeted population for adult education services in Kentucky is approximately 1 million people. These individuals are between the ages of 18 and 64 and function between 0-8.9 grade level. Last year Kentucky served only about 44,000 people which is 4.4% of its target population. The state's enrollment goal is 7% or 70,000. Here in Jessamine County, our target population is 7,125. Our enrollment goal should be 499 people; however, last year we served 352 people, a little less than 5%.

Even though our enrollment goal was not met, a lot of time, effort, and expense has gone into recruitment and program promotion. We've put up flyers throughout the county, developed beautiful and informative brochures, and sent letters to churches, agencies, and businesses. Post cards and personal calls were made to students not attending, or not completing their objectives. Staff attended agency meetings, spoke at luncheons, and set up tables at various fairs. The program hosted several open houses and had an elaborate end of the year celebration. All of this, and more, was not enough to reach our enrollment goal. The community was still confused about our services. Many businesses saw us only as providing GED and literacy services. The benefits of adult education remained undervalued. We must be doing something wrong.

How do we enroll more students? How do we keep students long enough to achieve? What do we have to do to get the community to see us differently? How do you effectively market adult education?

In August of this year, our entire staff agreed to take part in a study group for professional development credit that would explore, research, design and implement a comprehensive marketing, recruitment, and retention plan for Jessamine County. Our intent was to also produce something that might be helpful to other adult education providers.

As a result of our efforts to date, we have:

Gained a general understanding of marketing principles and how it should fit into all organizational strategic plans, including adult education.

All organization strategic plans have several key components: product/services, human resources, finance, and marketing. We feel it is clear that successful marketing should be constant and ongoing, an investment, not an expense, and a commitment on everyone's part. Marketing must keep in mind goals and outcomes, and direct promotion and operations. Marketing is an attitude and must continually be "customer" driven.

Applied general marketing components to adult education. There are several activity areas that must be considered in a comprehensive marketing plan. We adapted the activity areas specifically to our adult education program. They include:
  1. Research-surveys, questionnaires, interviews, professional literature, etc...
  2. Operational Materials- forms, internal documents, resources, etc...everything used to provide the services and keep records.
  3. Operational Environment-facilities, tools, the "look and feel" of where and how services are provided;
  4. Public Relations-general stories, positive informational communications, and directed messages about program and delivery of services;
  5. Advertisement-direct and creative appeals for action/use of services based on meeting students and others needs;
  6. Special Events-celebrations and activities that express adult education's role and image through participation;
  7. Alliances- community partnerships, interagency meetings, and collaboration efforts.
Defined retention as "re-recruitment". Retention is in fact part of the overall marketing plan. It includes all those things that are done in each marketing activity area to enroll a student the first time, plus specific strategies that encourage a student to "come back" and complete their objectives.

Identified four distinct categories of target groups for adult education marketing efforts. Marketing strategies must be designed to address specific characteristics and needs of each category or sub groups within.

  • Students (enrolled attending/not attending, working, unemployed on assistance, literacy, parents of 0-7, ESL, institutionalized, special needs, others...)
  • Referrers (community agencies, churches, past students, supportive contacts, others...)
  • Supporters (volunteers, community members, school system, school board, program council, others....)
  • Funders (Department of Adult Education, United Way, foundations, businesses, community groups, others...)

Realized the necessity of addressing the barriers for each target group. It's imperative to understand those things that make it difficult to provide information or services to each group. Results are obviously impaired when recruiting Spanish speaking individuals with only English brochures and flyers. A more subtle example would be recruiting literacy level students from within businesses that only hire high school/GED graduates, or trying to get additional funds from a school district whose priority is K-12 and does not recognize the impact of adult education on families.

Recognized the importance of evaluating marketing activities. We now understand the importance of carefully analyzing marketing activities both prior to and after utilizing them. This analysis must include answers to questions such as: What is its purpose (objective)? How will we track the results (measure)? What will it cost (resources)? What determines success (indicators)? What is the time line ? Who is responsible?

As a result of this exploration and study, we have drafted a marketing strategy process which we intend to pilot test. Our plan is to incorporate this study group and its findings into a state conference presentation for additional feedback and analysis. We welcome any suggestions and comments that could enhance our efforts.

Jessamine County Adult Education Program
851 Wilmore Road
Nicholasville, KY 40356
(606) 887-9052