Wednesday, October 17, 2012
Enrollment drives the financial health of independent schools. When I began as an admissions director several years ago, this point was emphasized to me numerous times by our head of school. “Get more students,” he declared, “and we can solve our financial problems.” After I kindly brought up the realities of our competitive market, the global economic downturn, our stressed budget, and our declining enrollment trends for the past five years, he once again echoed: “Get more students.”
Not deterred, I started hunting for a cost-effective, systematic, research-based, yet highly personal, method for turning the tide of our admissions woes. After talking with several mentors and doing a bit of research, I stumbled upon a solution that is both simple and highly effective: a good conversation. In enrollment management, we just call it a “communication flow.”
The Challenge — Bad Solutions to a Narrow Market
To fully appreciate this solution, we have to step back and consider the enormity of the challenge facing independent schools. As an admissions director at a K–12 school who came from higher education, my sympathy for enrollment officials in mid-sized private schools has grown exponentially. First, many schools face declining or stagnant enrollment, and are thus charged with recruiting more students without spending any more money. “We can’t spend more money on better facilities, new teachers, improved academic programs, or marketing or advertising,” the leadership will declare. “After all, our budget has been shrinking. But, we need more students. Go and find them for us.” This is no easy task.
Moreover, the market for independent education, at least where I live in Colorado, is incredibly narrow. Faith-based schools like ours compete for families who (1) share our beliefs, (2) are wealthy enough to afford a private education, and (3) see the value of independent education. When you crunch the numbers, this is an awfully narrow slice of the total population. Most marketers are like a bachelor who buys a new suit, finds the best singles bar in the city, meets a girl, and proposes marriage on the first date. (This is what most schools do when they ask prospective students to enroll after a 45-minute tour.)
The typical solutions to an enrollment challenge often fall short. (Read the rest of the article)