February: Your School Needs an Enrollment Tracking Tool

People play differently when they’re keeping score. – Stephen R. Covey.

Back in September, the Enrollment Essentials article was titled “Your School Needs a Funnel System” which described the “Enrollment Funnel.” Just as sales professionals use a “Funnel” tool to show where potential customers are within the stages of their sales process (lead, prospect, interview, presentation, demonstration, financial consultation, verbal, and closed deal), your school also needs an enrollment funnel to show how many families have inquired, toured, applied for admission, been accepted, applied for financial aid and matriculated (that is, paid their deposit and set up a tuition payment plan).

If you’re saying, “Oh, our school doesn’t do that,” and you’re facing enrollment challenges, you’ve just learned one of the reason why that’s happening. You need to do ALL those things AND track them if you expect your school to grow over the next 5 to 10 years.

But isn’t the funnel a tracking tool? Yes it is – but it’s for those families that aren’t a part of your school community yet. The tracking tool I’m talking about in this article will allow you to track your school’s current grade-to-grade enrollment over the course of time.

Schools usually consider their enrollment efforts to be successful if the number of “first year” students is larger than number of students “graduating” from the school environment. I’ve heard many comments from school principals that are not concerned about an incoming kindergarten class of, say, 14 students, because there are only 8 students that are graduating from 8th grade. “That’s an increase of 6 students! Isn’t that great?”

Um – no, it isn’t. It’s great short-term thinking, but it spells disaster for the long-term viability of the school. One school that began to use the year-to-year data found that by the time the kindergarten “cohort” reached 8th grade, there were only half of the number of students in 8th grade that were enrolled in Kindergarten.  And that’s not a recent trend.

I entered first grade in 1966 as part of the class of ’67.  It surprised me to discover that my first grade class had 96 students (prior to the time when Catholic schools had kindergartens), with 48 students in each of the two first grade classrooms. By the time we all graduated eighth grade in 1974, the first year that Catholic Schools Week was celebrated, we numbered 55 students, with just under 30 students in each class. Interestingly, it seems that metric has held true over the past 4 decades. Therefore, that kindergarten class of 14 students will probably dwindle down to 7 by the time they reach eighth grade. Is that enough to sustain the school for the long-term? Ask those hundreds of faith-based schools that have closed in the past 40 years.

By tracking your grade by grade enrollment, you’ll be able to see how a cohort progresses through kindergarten, then first grade, then second, etc. By taking 6 years of this “cohort drop” and averaging them across grade levels, one can predict a grade by grade enrollment, and therefore, a total school enrollment by data, rather than by “hope.” Research was done by John W. Alspaugh in 1981 that validated the cohort-drop method of enrollment projection, which is still used by public school districts today for their budgetary and strategic planning.

This type of tool is available to you AT NO COST on this Web site as a part of BASIQS: Bringing Additional Students Into Quality Schools. Visit the home page at www.SchoolAdvancement.com, and find the “Enrollment” navigation tab at the top of the site under “The DREAM Elements” navigation tab. Or, you can quickly access an Enrollment Estimator for your school’s grade configuration by visiting http://schooladvancement.com/?page_id=492.

When you enter the grade by grade enrollment in the spreadsheet, you’ll see that the numbers slant so you can see the how the cohort progresses through the years. One school analyzed their figures and discovered they actually had an enrollment uptick in fifth and sixth grade which was sustained through seventh and eighth. It turned out that these were students who were planning on enrolling in the local Catholic high school, and their parents wanted the students to develop friendships prior to their children enrolling there, giving further validity to the claim that parents and students start thinking about their high school choices long before eighth grade.  It led the elementary school to develop a specialized middle school curriculum, further differentiating itself from other schools in the area, offering its students a unique educational experience.  It allowed sixth, seventh and eighth graders to work together in topic-oriented science and social studies classes, preparing them for the high school’s educational environment.

So, if parents are thinking about their high school choices four years before they enter the initial grade of the high school, when do you think they’re thinking about Kindergarten?  That’s right…their first birthday.  In fact, if your school has a Pre-K program, parents start thinking about schooling as soon as their children are born.  To develop a relationship with these new parents, enter “Baby Steps Marketing” in the search block on this Web site for a methodology to work toward engaging new parents with your school.

Sometimes, the best ideas come from the places you’d never expect them to come from.

© Michael V. Ziemski, SchoolAdvancement, 2013-2017