There are many factors that affect whether or not a school will grow. Have you ever thought about the reasons why some independent schools experience enrolment growth and why others decline? If you were developing a theory of school growth, what would you propose as the most important factors that influence enrolment growth?
My career has been focused on school growth. For 12 years, I led the enrolment and marketing effort at a liberal arts university in Michigan. During that time, our enrolment doubled. I then led a private school in Florida for a few years. For the past ten years, since I launched my company and coaching services, I have partnered with hundreds of schools as a catalyst for their enrolment growth (including a virtual school client in Australia).
Based on my experiences in working with independent schools, I believe there are multiple factors that contribute to enrolment growth or decline at a school. Let me highlight some of these factors for you.
- Leadership. The vision, drive and personality of the leadership (primarily the school Head) will affect enrolment. Leadership gurus Bennis and Nanus believe that “leadership is the pivotal force behind successful organisations” (Leaders: Strategies for Taking Charge). The same is true in an independent school.
- Quality school experience. One of the most important factors in school growth is the overall quality of the experience. Parents are investing significant resources to provide the very best education for their child and, because of this, they expect the best. A high-quality experience must be integrated throughout your school in order to grow your enrolment.
- Vision and school improvement. Whether it’s the addition of a new STEM lab or the construction of a state-of-the-art athletic complex, vision and school improvement in strategic areas can have an impact on enrolment growth.
- Faculty and staff. Your faculty and staff should be the primary connections that a family makes with your school. These educators will be the ones to teach and mentor students. When they deliver a high-quality educational experience and personally connect with the students in a positive way, this will impact enrolment.
- Parent satisfaction. When parents are satisfied, there are at least two primary results that affect enrolment. First, satisfied parents will lead to strong retention. A strong retention rate obviously leads to increased enrolment. Secondly, satisfied parents will tell their friends about your school. This is positive word-of-mouth working in your favour. You won’t be able to grow your school without parent satisfaction and positive word-of-mouth.
- Reputation. The experiences of parents, students, graduates, faculty, staff and donors will fuel word-of-mouth, whether positive or negative, in your community. In turn, this will create the reputation and word on the street about your school. This general buzz and reputation in the community will affect enrolment.
- Demographics, location and price. Your local community demographics, the location of your school and the tuition price will have a significant impact on enrolment. Can the families in your community afford the tuition price of your school? Are there families in your community that support the idea of an independent school for their children? When looking at ways to grow your school it is important to consider your demographics, location and price. Unless you move your school to another community, you can really only deal with the issue of price. Because of concerns with the economy and increased tuition rates in independent schools, it is critical to examine your pricing strategy in light of future sustainability.
- Competition. One of the issues facing independent schools today is the increased competition from other schools in a very competitive market. Besides competition with other independent schools, public schools are working to increase opportunities and quality. Additionally, some public schools are intentionally seeking to provide a free ‘private school’ experience. This creates competition and school shopping from the limited demographic pool in your community.
- Marketing and enrolment plan/strategies. It makes sense that every school desiring enrolment growth should have a marketing and enrolment plan. However, many schools I have come in contact with do not have a plan. With an intentional marketing and enrolment plan, you will be able to implement specific strategies that will impact your school’s growth. Recently, I presented a webinar on how you can develop your school’s enrolment and marketing plan that may be useful as a starting point.
While there may be other factors that influence growth, I believe that these have the greatest impact on enrolment at an independent school. In fact, if I could go back and write my dissertation all over again, this would be a great research topic.
What are the factors affecting enrolment growth at your school? What do you need to do to increase your school’s opportunity to grow?
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. enrollmentcatalyst.com