Industry Insights

Valuable insights from UPCEA's trusted corporate partners.

From the Ground Up: Attracting Working Adults as a New Student Market

Like many colleges and universities today, Spelman College was faced with the challenge of generating more revenue and also expanding beyond their core student population of women of color. Ultimately, the college made the decision to target working adults and professional learners who have been in the workforce for 10–15 years, a promising and relatively untapped market.

Exploring new direction

Adding co-ed adult learners to Spelman’s student population raised some concerns about extending the Spelman brand to new audiences without tarnishing it in any way. To address these concerns, the Spelman team undertook an exploration process to answer some key questions to align their outreach efforts with Spelman’s existing recruitment strategy and offering:

  • What is our target population?
  • What will we offer?
  • How do we take this to market?

Testing the waters

To inform their approach to adult learners, the college ventured into online learning with summer courses that their existing student base could use to get ahead or catch up academically. Interest in these courses from Spelman undergraduates was high, and, as a result, the Spelman board of trustees challenged the college’s team to explore how they could leverage this model to attract adult learners.

Spelman mapped out a plan for its certificate offerings and developed each course. As online delivery was a new option for Spelman, they decided to work with Collegis Education to support faculty with training, including helping with course updates and any challenges faculty might face while teaching a course online for the first time. 

The innovative online offering — eSpelman — offers certificate programs for anyone who needs an opportunity to increase their workforce skills and advance their careers.

Proving the concept

eSpelman launched three courses in January 2022 with 49 learners. In 2023, enrollments rose to 1,300 learners in eSpelman certificate courses ranging from Business Essentials to Cosmetic Science. Spelman continues to rely on Collegis to help research areas where the program should grow and to develop a strategic plan for that growth.

Next steps for Spelman will be to offer advanced certificates, particularly in the healthcare field, and to develop a C-suite certificate program. Looking ahead, Associate Vice President Tiffany Watson, Ph.D. says, “Maybe one day we’ll have a building on campus that houses the eSpelman lifelong learning enterprise. I’d love to one day launch an online degree program.”

Get our white paper “Expanding Vision to Reach Adult Learner Market” to learn the role that marketing strategy, a partnership with Guild and alumni support played in eSpelman’s success.

Download the white paper.


Collegis Education is higher ed’s innovation enabler, empowering schools with a better vision of how they fit into learners’ lives and what’s possible when they do. With more than 10 years’ experience as industry pioneers, we’ve proven how leveraging data and technology can transform everything from student experiences to business processes. As higher ed evolves, you’ll need a thought partner and tactical pro, not a pre-packaged product or platform. Our strategic services allow institutions  to leapfrog from wondering to doing, implement long-term growth plans and build in-house capacity to thrive in a complex market. Learn more at

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