February 19

How Your Institution Can Attract Prospective Students With Non-Traditional Approaches 


Higher education is no longer about lecture halls and textbooks. Today, students want a more dynamic and applicable educational experience. 

Take gap year programs for example, these are programs that many high school graduates seek. In fact, rising interest in these programs was discussed in the Biblical Higher Ed Talk podcast. 

“In 2020 only 3% of American high school graduates participated in gap year programs, but that number doubled during the pandemic.”

And these numbers will continue to rise. 

With these non-traditional education programs growing in popularity, your institution needs to take advantage of them. This blog will take a deep dive into the benefits of these programs and what different types you can offer your students. Let’s dive in! 

Benefits of a Non-Traditional Approach

These unique ways of learning could include everything from gap year programs to industry and corporate collaborations. And these programs are a strategic response to a rapidly changing world. 

Especially because for many students, the path to knowledge and skill acquisition is no longer linear or confined within the traditional classroom walls. Modern students don’t want to just learn the concepts, they want to do the work so they are fully prepared for the industry of their choice.  

And institutions who embrace these non-traditional learning programs will see several benefits: 

  1. Enhanced Attractiveness and Diversity: By offering non-traditional programs, institutions tap into new student demographics, attracting individuals who might not have considered higher education within the traditional framework. This diversification enriches the campus culture and broadens the institution’s impact.
  2. Increased Accessibility: These programs often leverage online platforms and flexible scheduling, breaking down geographical and time barriers. This accessibility opens doors for a wider range of students, including working professionals and international students, which expands the institution’s enrollment base.
  3. Strengthening Practical Relevance: Collaborations with industry and real-world entities ensure that the education provided is current and relevant. Which also positions the institution as a pragmatic and forward-thinking establishment.
  4. Fostering Innovation: Non-traditional programs encourage a culture of innovation, critical thinking, and global awareness. Institutions benefit from the cross-pollination of ideas and perspectives, ensuring that they remain at the forefront of educational thought and practice.
  5. Financial Viability: Diversifying into programs like these helps institutions tap into new revenue streams. As traditional revenue sources become more uncertain for many universities (especially with the looming enrollment cliff), these programs can offer financial stability and growth opportunities.

What a great way to strengthen your institution’s positioning!

When you offer key programs like the ones listed in this blog, it makes you an obvious student choice. Especially if the programs you choose are aligned with your mission-fit students’ needs. 

Here are a few programs your institution can consider: 

Alternative Credit Providers

Alternative credit providers represent a significant shift in how education can be approached. 

These programs allow students to earn academic credits through non-traditional means, such as online courses, vocational training, or even professional and life experiences. This form of collaboration is especially beneficial for students who need flexibility or have diverse learning preferences. 

Institutions partnering with these providers can offer a more inclusive and accessible education, catering to a broader student demographic. And such programs often ensure that the alternative credits align with the institution’s academic standards, maintaining the integrity and quality of the education provided.

We recommend finding a company or course outside of your institution that many of your mission-fit students will identify with and partnering with them. 

Gap Year Programs

Gap year programs offer students an enriching break from traditional academic studies. 

Especially if it includes travel! 

These programs often include volunteer work, internships, or other experiential learning opportunities. And they focus on personal growth, cultural immersion, and developing practical skills. 

Plus, your institution can make gap year programs more enticing by offering credit or integrating them into degree pathways. That way, your institution can ensure quality and safety standards are met while providing students with life-changing experiences that contribute to their overall development and readiness for their future careers.

These programs have become a large part of the decision making process for students when it comes to what university they should attend, and they could be the reason your institution becomes their top choice. 

Research Collaborations 

Research is what keeps the cutting edge of science on the edge of its seat. 

According to the American Council on Education, “Universities account for 62.0 percent of national basic research in the U.S.” 

These collaborations can lead to breakthroughs, publications, and enhanced learning opportunities that look good on the student’s resume, and add to the institution’s prestige and scholarly impact.

And as an added bonus, students get the opportunity to work on multidisciplinary and diverse teams. 

Faculty Exchange and Development

Faculty exchange and development programs enrich the academic community by introducing diverse teaching styles and new ideas. And through this expanded educational experience they benefit both faculty and students.

These initiatives bring together faculty from various institutions, allowing them to engage in teaching and research at partner organizations. For example, a professor from a liberal arts college in the United States might spend a semester at a university in Europe. This educator brings a unique perspective on teaching methodologies to the European classroom and in return they are exposed to a different learning environment. And on their return, the educator brings new insights, teaching styles, and international perspectives.

For students, faculty exchange and development programs are a gateway to a dynamic learning environment. When their professors participate in these exchanges, students are exposed to diverse academic perspectives and innovative teaching methodologies. 

This exposure can inspire new ways of thinking and learning, and offers a window into different cultures without having to leave their home campus.

Industry and Corporate Collaborations

Programs with industry and corporate entities are a bridge between academia and the business world. And this bridge can help students get the experience they need to land quality jobs once they finish their degree.  

These collaborations can take the form of internships, sponsored research, and joint ventures. 

Students can only win with these types of connections. Internships, co-op placements, or project-based learning allow students to apply classroom theories to practical challenges, enhancing their job readiness and marketability. 

And for institutions, these programs help them stay on the cutting edge of industry developments, ensuring that their curriculums are up-to-date and relevant. 

Benefits For Students

Any one of these great non-traditional programs will add value to your institution. But they also have several benefits for your students! 

  • Diverse Learning Opportunities: Students gain access to a broader range of courses and programs, often including unique specialties not available at their home institution.
  • Global Exposure: International programs offer students cross-cultural experiences and global perspectives, crucial in today’s interconnected world.
  • Enhanced Employability: Collaborations with industry and corporations provide practical experience, internships, and networking opportunities, increasing employability post-graduation.
  • Personal Growth: Gap year and exchange programs promote personal development, independence, and soft skills like adaptability and communication.
  • Academic Flexibility: Programs with alternative credit providers enable students to tailor their learning paths and manage educational timelines more flexibly.
  • Access to Expertise: Collaborative research and faculty exchange programs expose students to diverse expertise and cutting-edge knowledge in their fields.

Final Thoughts

Institutions venturing into these programs should approach them with a strategy that considers what programs would be most ideal for their ideal student. 

Through planning, open communication, and continuous evaluation, these programs can become a staple at your institution. And remember, the most successful non-traditional programs are those built on mutual respect, shared goals, and a commitment to enhancing the educational experience. 

If you need help marketing your unique programs to catch the attention of your mission-fit student, let’s chat! We can help you create effective marketing strategies that get your institution the attention it deserves. 

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