Don’t Confuse Enrollment With Retention

This is the second of four Marketing Matters that speak to several juxtapositions that our school administrators, board members and pastors grapple with as we move further into the 21st Century. Last week’s Marketing Matter, “To Whom Does Your School Minister?” asked school administrators to consider that although faith-based schools are viewed as a business today, they are still ministries. To review and clarify, Catholic, Christian and other faith-based schools serve the parents.  This is especially true for Catholic schools, as detailed in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, since one of the main roles of the parent is to instruct their child in the ways of the Faith and in life:

“Parents have the first responsibility for the education of their children in the faith, prayer, and all the virtues. They have the duty to provide as far as possible for the physical and spiritual needs of their children” – The Catechism of the Catholic Church, #2252.

However, the Catholic Church does not see the Catholic school as the place where adults are educated. Such is the responsibility of the parish. While the school serves parents by assisting them in their role as parents to educate their children, the teachers in the schools, at least for the majority of teachers in ANY school, are trained to educate children. The mission of Catholic education, and therefore, the Catholic school, is to proclaim the message, to build community, to provide service and to celebrate worship. While the same four tenets can be attributed to the parish and adult education, the Catholic school works to instill those qualities in the children that are entrusted to them, so that at some point along their life-long journey, they can evangelize to others.

Similarly, the terms “enrollment” and “retention” are used interchangeably at times in our schools. And that’s some dangerous interchanging.

Enrollment is the act of bringing new students into your school; retention is the act of keeping those students in your school in your school (while that sounds redundant, it isn’t).  It helps to remember that the best way to begin to build your enrollment is to keep the enrollment you have, but you will always need to employ enrollment strategies since eighth graders “graduate” and move on to high school; high school students graduate and move on to college.

Marketing your school for enrollment growth leads it inquiries to your school, and how those inquiries are shepherded leads to increased enrollment. Marketing for enrollment growth, however, does NOTHING to increase retention; retention happens through experience.

Consider this – a parent of a student that’s preparing to enter Kindergarten finds a brochure about your school while she’s shopping at the local supermarket. She brings the brochure home and logs on to your school’s Web site, where she is impressed with the look of the school, the structure of the curriculum, and the opportunities for her child to be able to worship and talk about God in the classroom. She calls the school to arrange a tour, at which time she’s introduced to the school administrator and the child is shown the Kindergarten room and introduced to the teacher. More discussions ensue regarding tuition, financial aid and payment plans, and the parent leaves with a good feeling about the potential location where her child will spend the next nine years of her life.

Does the parent of a 3rd grader currently enrolled in your school care that there is a brochure about your school at the local supermarket? That your school’s Web site has information about the school’s curriculum? That the administrator will provide a great tour of the facility? The answer is an emphatic, “NO.” Good marketing for enrollment growth has nothing to do with retaining students; however, walking the talk has EVERYTHING to do with retaining students!

If the parent of the 3rd grader finds that their child is excelling in certain subjects, and, for the most part, the child likes the teacher, likes going to school, and has a good friend to share lunch with, then that experience is what will keep that child enrolled in your school. Rarely are tuition concerns the only reason a parent disenrolls their child. Tuition and other financial reasons are cited when the experience has deteriorated to the point that remaining in the school has become a point of contention with the child – which is why policies against bullying, safety and cyberspace security are top of today’s parents’ minds.

Both enrollment and retention provide synergy with each other. Students currently enrolled in the school (retention) will usually have good things to say about the school which will positively impact the child’s parents. Those parents in turn provide great word-of-mouth or “buzz” marketing to encourage other parents to enroll their children in the school. More enrollment can cause waiting lists to occur, so parents are eager to reserve their child’s seat in the classroom for the next year as soon as possible.

The other aspect to keep in mind is the negative effect of the subsidized tuition. If a school charges $2500 for tuition, and the cost of education is $5000, an increase of 10 students in the school may be seen as a positive step for the school, but it could be viewed by the pastor of the supporting parish or church as an additional $20,000 out of the church’s budget. For this reason, schools should consider moving to a model where tuition is based on the cost of educating a child, and where financial aid can be included in the budget and allocated to parents based on the family’s financial need. Doing so allows the family that has been blessed to share those blessings with others who have not been blessed. And isn’t that what Christ asked that we do for each other? See 2 Corinthians 8:13-15 for justification.

Next week: Leadership vs. Faith, Hope and Love.

© Michael V. Ziemski, SchoolAdvancement, 2008-2018 (Original Publication Date: 20080512)