Enrollment

Here’s where you’ll find resources related to increasing your school’s enrollment.

If you just said, “That’s what effective Marketing does,” I’m glad you’ve found this site.  Effective Marketing does NOT increase enrollment; effective marketing increases the number of inquiries to your school from parents and guardians of prospective students to your school.  It’s how effectively you handle, follow up with and develop a relationship with those inquiring parents and guardians that will result in increased enrollment.

Marketing is education, as marketing strives to change one person’s mindset and be open to something new.  Education does the same thing.  When education is effective, learning happens.   Effective marketing involves a plan to make that happen, just as effective education uses a lesson plan to guide the learning.  If Marketing is education, Enrollment is sales.  Sales involves a process.  If you’ve ever entered a new car showroom, the process can be described in 5 steps: Reception, Consultation, Presentation, Demonstration, and Acquisition.  You might call it, “Greeting, Meeting, Touring, Shadowing, and Enrolling” for your school.

To help schools with this process, I’ve created BASIQS: Bringing Additional Students Into Quality Schools.  You may be familiar with it as BASICS, since it was first used by Catholic schools and then by Christian schools.  Interestingly, schools of both faith traditions have told me that their school must be a quality school if it’s a faith-based school, because when you’re doing what you do for the Lord, it has to be the best you can offer.

Currently, BASIQS consists of three components:  an enrollment estimator and targeting tool; a form to help record inquiries along with a follow-up process, and a scorecard so you can track your school’s enrollment on a month-by-month basis to keep it top of mind.  The National Association of Partnership Schools at Johns Hopkins University states, “We pay attention to what we measure,” and Enrollment is something which requires constant attention – just like tuition and fee tracking!

Here’s how it came to be.

When I worked in Catholic school administration, I realized that there was a lot of hope in the Catholic schools of our diocese.  Not in terms of faith, hope and love, but in terms of, “I hope we get more students next year,” “I hope the family I sent the information folder to calls us back,” and ” I hope we can stay open for another year.”  Such comments do not provide the inspired vision necessary for leadership in Catholic, Christian, or any faith-based school today.

I was teaching a course in technology design as an adjunct professor while trying to come up with some ways to overcome our schools’ enrollment difficulties.  Interestingly, I discovered one of the chapters in the text I was advised to use for the class detailed how public schools estimated their enrollments in order to do long-term planning.  The formulas to estimate enrollment were researched by Alspaugh (1981) and provided a framework to project enrollments several years into the future, since census data was only collected every ten years.

I thought if this type of projection could work several years into the future with a minimum of variance, then it could surely help schools trying to plan from one year to the next before moving into long-term planning structures.  The difference, of course, was that Catholic schools were marketing themselves to attract parents of prospective students, and their enrollments were not necessarily based on local population data. And then there was that “tuition” thing, too.

At the same time, I had one of our principals approach me with “Great news!”  She said that there were 25 students already registered for Kindergarten for the following school year, and was pleased that her marketing efforts looked like they were beginning to pay off.  When the school year started, however, we found that although the school’s Kindergarten figures were up, the total enrollment had decreased due to attrition in the higher grades.  Interestingly, using the formula provided in the text, I plugged their historical grade-by-grade enrollments into the Excel spreadsheet I had created, and discovered that the attrition rate could have been calculated.  Therefore, I added another element to the spreadsheet that allowed a “desired” enrollment for the school to be entered.  By doing so, the sheet calculated a “target” kindergarten enrollment figure that the school would need to enroll for the following year.  For this school, if the enrollment was expected to grow by only one student, they would have had to enroll 28 students rather than 25 in their kindergarten class.

In testing this tool, it became clear that it could provide some insights for budgeting, too.  If a school sets a policy of a maximum class size at 29 students, and finds that it needs 32 kindergarten students for its enrollment to grow, then some options can be considered.  Does the school hire another teacher, and face what doing so will do to the budget and, therefore, tuition?  Does the school make the case to accept a decrease in enrollment so that personnel costs can be contained and a waiting list can be started?  Does the school decide to create its budget from a true “cost” perspective, rather than raising tuition on what the administration thinks parents will accept for the following year, and then somehow “backing into” their expense figure, expecting the parish or affiliated churches to cover the shortfall?  The sooner these questions can be considered in the school year, the less chance there is for panic to set in near the end.  Experimentation and refining the structure led to the creation of the Enrollment Estimator (TM).

I also discovered schools would simply send packets of information to parents that requested them, rather than sending information a little at a time so that it could be “easily digested” or inviting them to the school for a tour.  The school’s Web site should be the repository for all information about the school, but, of course, schools said that they didn’t have a good Web site…or at least one that they could maintain because a parent did it for them, or worse, that parent that did it for them left the school and now no one can update it.  Once that packet went out, though, there was usually no follow-up.  The Prospective Family Contact Form is a place to not simply hold data about a family interested in your school for their child, it also asks for family information so that you can see if there are other siblings that may be future students.  It also has a follow-up methodology to follow-up with a family every other week, along with a “tickler” file system.  While the system provided here was designed to work with a binder along with date and month providers, it can easily be adapted to work with a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) database.  Before you think that CRMs are for salespeople and don’t apply to your school, consider that enrollment is sales.  Families today won’t “just appear” at your doorstep.  That attitude is why schools are still consolidating and closing today.

The third item of BASIQS is a scorecard to allow you to keep track of your school’s enrollment on a month-to-month basis.  It can let you see where admission trends might develop.  One PK-8 Catholic school found that there was an “entry point” in 6th grade.  When most faith-based schools start to see their enrollments decrease in the middle school grades, this school actually saw an increase.  Further analysis showed that these students were planning on attending the local Catholic high school, and therefore were enrolled in the local Catholic school so they could make friendships, play sports, and learn alongside the classmates they hoped to be with for the rest of their K-12 experience.  Such data also provided some insight for the local Catholic high school, who began to target parents of 5th and 6th grade students and not just those of 7th and 8th grade students for admission.

There are two other components that are coming down the pike – a tool to help you brand and market your school as well as automate and track the contacts your school has made or is scheduled to make with parents, and a 5-year strategic planning Enrollment Estimator to help you school’s planning efforts.  One principal I used to work with told her that when she was hired, her pastor told her she could do one of two things: work to grow the school, or work to close the school.  She chose growth, and it’s my hope that these tools will help you choose likewise.

In addition to BASIQS: Bringing Additional Students In to Quality Schools, “Enrollment Essentials” posts can be found on the main page of the SchoolAdvancement.com Web site. A new posting is made every month on the 15th, and can be accessed in “archive” form by clicking on the “Enrollment” tab on the Web site’s navigation bar.

May your efforts to grow your school be blessed!!