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It’s Time to Rethink Your ROI - New ‘Late Bloomers’ Insight

Rethink your ROI - new late bloomers


Have we been selling ourselves short? A recent working paper by the National Bureau of Economic Research has got us thinking, "Yeah, maybe." 

The not so fine print in “Late Bloomers: The Aggregate Implications of Getting Education Later in Life” is this: the age at which you get your degree matters. The economists found that the younger you are when you get degreed, the stronger your financial return on the investment from that degree. As a result, it may be time to take a closer look at how you present your institution’s ROI.  

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The Late Bloomers paper (link below), which looks at university grads beginning with the US 1930 birth cohort onward, also reveals that around 20% of students obtain their 4-year degree after age 30, hence the late bloomer label. A not so insignificant figure, with more than a few not so insignificant implications.  

Sure, the popular notion that university grads are early 20-somethings remains true enough, but the 1-in-5-student stat reveals this belief is not the whole truth – and never was. Turns out the non-traditional student market is significant (you’ve read our series on the non-traditional student advantage, yes?).  

Significant and new with this paper: the understanding that late bloomers’ ROI may not be as strong as once thought. On the flip side, the new data analysis means the ROI for younger grads is even stronger than we believed. Interesting, and worth promoting.  

Other notable findings from the paper: Late bloomers have helped narrow the gender and racial gaps in university enrollment, even despite a widening racial gap among the early university grad set. And, late bloomers account for more than half of the growth in the share of university-educated adults from 1960 to 2019.  

There’s a lot to unpack here, including why we think you may be selling yourself short based on these fresh insights. Read on…we’ll keep it actionable. 

Here are our 4 big takeaways and what they mean for those of us focused on student recruitment and enrollment management. To read the full working paper, click here. It’s free and worth your time.

Finding #1:

One-fifth of 4-year higher ed graduates complete their education after age 30. 

The authors report that “the continued education of individuals into their 50s is a robust, persistent, and wide-spread phenomenon.” Overall, they found higher educational attainment occurred among later-born cohorts; the number of grads within a given cohort grew with the aging of the cohort; and the age gradient of the university share was steeper for later-born cohorts.  

What this means for you: Integrating services, messaging, and flexible programming for prospective and current late bloomers on your campus is a must. Unlike traditional students, this audience has different motivations based in large part on their lifestyles (read: life pressures). It’s a market we know well. Need help identifying and connecting with late bloomers? Be in touch: info@intead.com 

Finding #2:

Returns for obtaining a higher education degree are lower for late bloomers. 

This is where it gets interesting. And there’s nuance within subsets. But overall, it should be stated that late bloomers do earn higher wages than non-graduates. And upon graduating, they do realize a boost in wages and career position. However, the % growth in wages for late bloomers is smaller than the growth for traditional university grads. Still positive ROI for all involved. When you do the math and remove the late bloomers from the equation, the actual ROI (value of a university degree) for traditional grads is actually higher than previously reported. 

What this means for you: We wonder if now’s the time to revisit your ROI discussion internally. Reports consistently tell us that your graduates will earn their money back and then some during th span of their careers. Parsing out your traditional and non-traditional grad ROI figures may help you promote more accurately and effectively with both cohorts.  

Simply put, you may be underestimating the real value of your degrees. At a time when higher education institutions are in the cultural hot seat for sky high tuition, don’t you think it’s worth the effort to re-evaluate the ROI you are conveying? Your inquiry and yield rates will thank you.

Finding #3:

Late bloomers gender, racial demongraphics feed higher ed

Since the 1980's more women have pursued undergraduate degrees than men. Among the late bloomers cohort, there are also more women than men. Regarding race, the percentage of late graduates is higher among Black and Hispanic populations than among White populations, helping to narrow the racial gap that is widening among early university students. 

What this means for you: Different factors affect the decisions of different groups when it comes to pursuing and obtaining a degree later in life. So, get to know the late bloomers as an audience segment outside of your traditional group. What drives them? Why are they considering a degree? And why now? What is it about your institution that will serve them well? Is it for social mobility, improved pay, new skills? Can they commit to 2 years? 4 years? Or do they need a shorter-term credential? Understand these differences, speak to them, and help create welcoming, supportive experiences. As our research (link above) on this cohort demonstrates, they are looking for very different services, programs, and results than your traditional student cohorts.  

Finding #4:

From 1960 to 2019, late bloomers accounted for more than 50% of the growth in adults seeking a university education. 

Educational attainment in the US has been growing. Between 1960 – 2019, the percentage of individuals with a university degree went from 8.4% to 34.5%. It appears this increase stems from successive cohorts obtaining more education. And, since 1960 more than half of the growth of university-educated adults is from late bloomers. Further proving the influence of this audience. 

What this means for you: As we barrel toward the student enrollment cliff set to peak in 2025, broadening our recruitment reach is a must. The late bloomer cohort has been hiding in plain sight for decades. There has never been a better time to find them than now. We can help. 

The Intead team has been providing actionable insights on the late bloomer cohort for more than six years now, having identified the opportunity when we first published our 100+ page ebook on the topic in 2018 -- full version with case studies, student personas, and marketing plan available to Intead Plus subscribers. 

With the right investment in programs, services, and promotion, late bloomers will become a steady part of your expanding recruitment strategy and enrollment base. And as older adults, they have an established network of peers.... Think WOM marketing.

We can help you adapt your current marketing to appeal to this cohort. Be in touch: info@intead.com 

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