The 2014-2015 school year starts today. Sure, I know that the 2013-2014 school year is still in session for many of you, and, I also know that for many of you forward-thinkers, your planning for the 2014-2015 school started the day that the 2013-2014 school year began. For you, your planning for the 2015-2016 school year starts today!
The coming 12 weeks will see some brand new articles! Last year at this time, I began a series of 13 posts detailing how to create a marketing plan for your school. Those articles were so well received that I was encouraged to put them into a textbook to help schools create a marketing plan to increase enrollment in tuition-charging schools. However, it was also at that time that I began to see the first step to increasing enrollment was to retain as much of the current enrollment as possible, and, in doing so, retain as much of the parent community as possible. More parents of currently enrolled students increase the potential impact that Word of Mouth marketing can have in the marketplace (aka, “the market,”) in which the school is located. Word of Mouth marketing is the most effective AND least expensive strategy, and needs to be a part of every marketing plan that any school puts together. Doing so involves intentional training and education of the parent community.
The unfortunate thing is that most schools just “expect” this to happen.
It doesn’t…because it’s not easy.
The easiest thing to do in the marketplace is complain, and, especially today, not just in the local supermarket. There are Web sites dedicated to recording awful experiences. Even those that encourage recommendation, such as Yelp, TripAdvisor, and Angie’s List, are places where customers can post details describing their displeasure.
As for schools, simply “Google” “Private Schools,” and you’ll see a number of sites, such as Private School Review and Great Schools, that offer statistics about schools for parents looking for educational options for their children. Some parents also provide reviews relative to their experiences.
So how does all this relate to “The Next School Year Begins Today?” Because parents are already looking at these sites to see what they’re going to for the coming school year…especially if school will soon be out for the summer. You know these parents. They’re the ones that haven’t yet registered their children for the coming school year.
As for what your school needs to do, this is the time for planning, crafting and creating. Implementation of what is planned, crafted and created during the summer happens during the school year. Last month (May) was the time to evaluate the success of what was implemented over the course of current school year.
I’ll bet you’re saying, “Wait a minute. You can’t assess the effectiveness of anything until it’s complete.” That’s true for gathering complete statistics and analyzing them, especially for academic achievement relative to grade calculations, but, for the most part, you can assess the effectiveness of your school’s business elements before the school year “officially” ends.
Let’s take retention, for example. This calculation is made on the first day of the school year. You can tell how many students were retained from the previous school year to the current school year on the first day of school. How about enrollment? Certainly! There aren’t too many families that are going to enroll their child in a new school during the month of May. They’ll usually finish out the school year at their current school, then move during the summer. Development? Development is ongoing. You may have contributions come in at any time of the year, so seeing what’s happened in previous years is a good barometer to estimate what will happen during the coming months.
Marketing? Measuring the amount of inquiries generated is important to determine marketing effectiveness, but at this time of the school year, you’re in enrollment mode, and turning those inquiries into enrollments, and not simply generating inquiries. After all, in most schools, there will be a few more enrollments over the summer months, but there will also be summer enrollment “melt.” Schools usually look at their projected enrollment for the coming school year in April, and then make determinations about what they’ll need to do relative to budget projections.
The last element, Asset Management, is the one that makes May one of the most stressful and tense months of the calendar. It’s the time when schools are scrambling to collect past due tuition, wondering what to do with families that promised to pay what they owe with their income tax refund, only to find out that the refund was less than they thought it would be, and since other bills took priority over paying what was owed to the school, the school can’t pay its obligations. I’ve visited schools where enrollment was at 200 students, and there were only 12 or 15 families that fell into this situation. Yet, funds due from these families were enough to make the school have to borrow from other sources in order to pay its bills and have funds to pay teachers for the final months of the school year. If these families are not permitted to return to school, the 200 enrollment drops to 180, and there is no way the school can meet budget with only 180 students for the following year, complicated by the amount the school borrowed which must be repaid.
As you can see, you can assess how well current processes are working in May. “Waiting for all the figures to be in” by the end of June before making any decisions as to where to go for the coming school year creates false hope. In July, many schools have a skeleton staff and reduced hours, so that by the time everyone can review those “end of June” reports, rumors about merging and closure start to surface when school starts back up in August.
With that in mind, the Marketing Matters which will be posted this summer may challenge your current thinking, since:
© Michael V. Ziemski, SchoolAdvancement, 2014 (Original Publication Date: 20140602)