My career has been focused on school growth. For 12 years, I led the enrollment and marketing effort at a liberal arts university in Michigan. During that time, our enrollment doubled. For the past nine years, since I launched Enrollment Catalyst, I have partnered with hundreds of schools as a catalyst for their enrollment growth.
This is a great time of year, as I hear enrollment growth reports from the schools I have worked with through my Enrollment Catalyst Program. The following are a few of my Enrollment Catalyst stories of school growth from this year:
- Ben Lippen School in Columbia, SC – Increase of 50+ students over last year
- Lexington Christian Academy in Lexington, MA – 10% enrollment growth
- Linfield Christian School in Temeculah, CA – 14% enrollment growth
- Newtown Friends School in Newtown, PA – 9% enrollment growth
- Plymouth Christian Academy in Canton, MI – 11% enrollment growth
- Portsmouth Christian Academy in Dover, NH – 4% enrollment growth
- Sarasota Christian School in Sarasota, FL – Highest enrollment in over a decade
- Southfield School in Shreveport, LA – 5% enrollment growth
- St. John Lutheran School in Ocala, FL – 6% enrollment growth
- The River Academy in Wenatchee, WA –15% enrollment growth
- The Village School of Naples, FL – 10% enrollment growth
There are many factors that affect whether or not a school will grow. Have you ever thought about the reasons why some private schools experience enrollment 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 enrollment growth?
Based on my experiences in working with independent and faith-based schools, I believe that there are multiple factors that contribute to enrollment 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 head of school) will affect the enrollment. In a previous blog post I discussed this issue specifically (see: “Enrollment Rises or Falls on Leadership”). Bennis and Nanus, leadership gurus, believe that “leadership is the pivotal force behind successful organizations” (Leaders: Strategies for Taking Charge). The same is true in a private 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 enrollment.
- 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 enrollment growth.
- Faculty and Staff – Your faculty and staff should be the primary connection 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 experience will impact enrollment.
- Parent Satisfaction – When parents are satisfied, there are at least two primary results that affect enrollment. First, satisfied parents will lead to strong retention. A strong retention rate obviously leads to increased enrollment. Secondly, satisfied parents will tell their friends about your school. This is positive word-of-mouth working in your favor. 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 out on the street, about your school. This general buzz and reputation in the community will affect enrollment.
- Demographics, Location and Price – Your local community demographics, the location of your school and the tuition price will have a significant impact on enrollment. Can the families in your community afford the tuition price of your school? Are there families in your community that support the idea of a private 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 private schools, it is critical to examine your pricing strategy in light of future sustainability.
- Competition – One of the issues facing private schools today is the increased competition from other schools. Private schools face a very competitive market. Besides competition with other private schools, public schools are working to increase quality by providing specialized, magnet and I.B. opportunities. In addition, charter schools are providing a free “private school” experience. This creates competition and school shopping from our limited demographic pool in our community.
- Marketing and Enrollment Plan/Strategies – It makes sense that every school desiring enrollment growth should have a marketing and enrollment plan. However, many schools I have come in contact with do not have a plan. With an intentional marketing and enrollment 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 enrollment and marketing plan. If you missed it, you may be interested in watching the recording.
While there may be other factors that influence growth, I believe that these have the greatest impact on enrollment at a private school. In fact, if I could go back and write my dissertation all over again, this would be a great research topic.
Click here to read this article on the Enrollment Catalyst website.