“Why Is Our School Is In Danger of Closing When We Have Over 200 Students Enrolled?”

“Schools used to say that if they have under 100 students, they’re in danger of closing, but now I’m seeing schools with over 200 students that are closing.  Why is that happening?”

There could be other problems that a school may have been having – not collecting all their tuition and ending the year with a significant deficit, for instance.  If that trend happens for several years, even with steady enrollment, the school’s bottom line could be eroding.

Perhaps a supporting parish can no longer support the school at their customary level due to a decrease in contributions from parishioners.  Perhaps an endowment is no longer earning the interest it did in past years.  Perhaps a generous benefactor has retired and sold the business that served to fund a significant portion of the school’s budget.

The thought used to be that it was “All about the money.”  Schools began implementing development programs.  Then thinking started to shift toward “It’s all about enrollment,” and marketing efforts began to take root so that more students would be enrolled in schools.  Perhaps a school had a generous benefactor, and then put development efforts on autopilot so that they could focus on growing enrollment.

But Advancement strategies are not linear – you can’t just focus on one of the elements, then shift your complete attention to another, and when that is performing or grown to an acceptable level, then work on the next.  Advancement is “systemic.”  All the elements – Development, Retention, Enrollment, Asset Management and Marketing – have to be implemented at once, with several being worked on simultaneously, allowing shifting priorities where necessary to grow, and not merely “advance.”

Systems such as this are referred to as “living organisms,” since a change in one of the elements will cause changes in the others.  Think of it this way – when you were born, your head grew a little faster at first than the rest of you since your brain was developing.  But then your body started to grow, your arms lengthened and your legs began to stretch out.  As you matured, your head stretched out a little, you had a growth spurt that left you with “growing pains” in your legs, and your midsection lengthened.  Just think of how difficult it would be if our head grew to full size first, then our left arm, then our right leg, then the other appendages, in random order.

It’s not just about enrollment.  To quote MisterRogers, “Everything grows together.”