Making a comprehensive plan to drive school growth

What should we do to grow our school’s enrolment? How should we turn around our school’s enrolment decline? Are there specific school growth strategies we should implement?

These are typical questions that I get nearly every day from school leaders as they seek solutions to turn around their decline or grow a stagnant enrolment. No-one likes to be responsible for a school in decline.

So, what’s my response? Honestly, the answer isn’t simple … and yet it is.

In order to grow your school’s enrolment, you need a comprehensive plan. There isn’t one magical solution that will result in school growth. Let me share with you the components of this comprehensive strategy.

Goals. What are the goals you are trying to reach? You will need enrolment goals that include the retention of current students and recruitment of new students. These goals should include enquiries, visits and applications to drive the new student enrolment results.

Budget. You should dedicate one to three percent of your school’s operational budget to marketing strategies. This does not include the salaries of your admissions and marketing staff. While I am not an advocate of just spending money because it is in your budget, I always want to make sure the resources are available to spend on the right strategies that will produce results.

Staffing. One of the most crucial elements of your plan is the staff needed to implement the processes and strategies. While the number of staff can vary from school to school, you will need the right staff dedicated to enrolment and marketing.

Lead generation strategies. Generating leads and interest in your school is one of the most important components of your plan. How will you generate the leads you need to reach your new student goals? What strategies will you use? These strategy categories can help guide you:

  • Outbound strategies are traditional advertising strategies that focus on pushing out messages to generate interest in and awareness of your school. These strategies typically include print, radio, television, direct mail, billboards and other ads. While these may provide some awareness for your school, they aren’t likely to produce leads. If you’ve been reading my blogs over the years, you know that these aren’t my go-to strategies.
  • Inbound strategies focus on using the web to draw prospective parents in to discover your school. Your website is your front door and it must tell your story in an emotionally compelling way. Through effective storytelling on social media, paid search and other inbound strategies, you can utilise the web to engage with your target audience.
  • WOMbound strategies use people to share word-of-mouth in your community. Through your parents, students, alumni, faculty, staff and board members, you want to inspire them to tell others about their experiences at your school and to nudge a friend to take a look.

Lead nurturing strategies. Once you generate leads, it is important for you to nurture them. This nurturing process includes making personal contacts by phone, email, text messages and mailings, as well as automated sequences to keep your school in front of the prospective parent. You will need an effective database and a system to manage this flow of contacts.

Events. Events that attract prospective parents to your school are important to schedule. Open days, preview activities and other events all work to showcase your school in a scheduled format that usually includes a presentation and tour. In addition, it is important to schedule soft-sell events to attract your target market to campus to benefit from an activity or program.

Retention. It’s true that it is more cost effective to retain a student than it is to recruit a new one. A retention rate of 90 percent or higher is based on strong parent satisfaction in your school. Effective strategies include continuous enrolment, internal communication and transition grade meetings amongst others. You will want to include these in your plan.

Tuition and financial aid. Cost is one of the greatest barriers to considering a school. It is therefore critical that you address this barrier with ways to overcome it. This may include strategies like variable tuition or communicating how your school is affordable. You will want to consider your strategy for tuition and financial aid, as well as how you can maximise enrolment and net tuition revenue.

While there is certainly more I could suggest, it is important that you develop a comprehensive plan for your school’s enrolment and marketing effort that will result in growth. This is what I do in my work with schools through my Enrollment Catalyst Program. Feel free to contact me at to find out more.

Dr Rick Newberry is the President of Enrollment Catalyst. Based in the USA, his goal is to provide school leaders with effective marketing and enrolment strategies, as well as staff accountability, direction, and results needed to grow their enrolment.
SMJ Rick Newberry

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