October 1st is a very important time for school administrators. It’s the beginning of the next school year! Not for families, of course…but for your planning and actions for NEXT year!
October 1st is usually the day of the official enrollment count for your school. So since this year’s enrollment count is now official, it’s time to move forward.
You still have time to discern three to five things that make your school a remarkable place to be. In fact, let’s go one step further than remarkable. After all, what you think may be remarkable may be the same thing that a school 3 or 4 miles away considers to be remarkable about their school. And, when two schools are alike, and there is no discernible difference, then the school with the lowest tuition or, perhaps, the best financial aid package, wins.
So let’s move from remarkable to distinctive. One’s “distinctiveness” (or “distinction”) is based on positive differences.
You’ve read it in the articles on SchoolAdvancement.com – Gospel values, excellent academics and a safe and caring community are expectations of parents of school-age children today, so marketing them has little, if any, effect on their decision to enroll their children in your school. As one principal told me, “But the fact that we can pray in school is indeed a remarkable quality!” While it’s remarkable, it’s not marketable (perhaps, call it, “remarketable?”) since there are other schools that allow that. Parents already know that happens in a faith-based school. Marketing to expectations is like saying the new cars being produced today have this neat feature that can make the car reverse direction. Now, automatic parallel parking? That’s remarkable! Therefore, when you consider what is remarkable about your school, just as you need to do in differentiated instruction, consider what’s different about your school that makes it distinctive in the marketplace. Even if you can pray in your school, if there’s another school less than 5 miles away where children, teachers, parents and administrators can do the same thing, it’s not a distinctive differentiator.
When you’ve discovered what makes your school a different, unique and remarkable educational environment, those are the things that you’ll emphasize in your marketing materials. We’ll discuss those next week, but, as promised, it helps to know that you just can’t make a packet of information, send it out, and expect parents to show up at your door. Brochures and other published information are based on facts and figures, and facts and figures are “congnitive” constructs. Parents need to become “affectively” engaged, since decisions are based on emotions, and supported or refuted by facts and figures.
Along those lines, here’s an assessment question: True or false – Marketing success is demonstrated by an enrollment increase. If you answered “true,” that would be scored as incorrect.
Marketing success is demonstrated by an increase in the number of inquiries to the school from parents interested in your school as the educational environment for their children. Capturing them, cultivating them, and turning those inquiries into enrollments is the measure of success in your enrollment process. That said, if parents are calling your school, and the person charged with answering the phone really doesn’t want to answer the phone because there are so many other things happening, that’s not going to be conducive to growing enrollment at your school. As Graham D. Brown mentioned in one of his presentations, “You can spend millions on ad campaigns, but as soon as your customer interacts with your front-line staff, all bets are off!”
When you begin your enrollment planning, you’ll want to get a few things lined up and ready to go, such as:
1) An information form (preferably an online one that connects to a database) to get all the demographic data you can about the family (I call that the INFORM(TM) form, which stands for “Information Needed For Our Record Maintenance”), rather than an “Enrollment” or “Application” form. We’re not there yet…it’s just an information construct. Some may call it an “inquiry” form.
2) A postcard that you can send to your potential families to direct them to your Web site. But don’t just say, “Check out our Web site.” Parents have probably already “checked out” your Web site since that’s how they may have found out about your school in the first place. Every action must be purposeful. On your Web site, have some information about something special that’s coming up, and make a big deal about it on your home page, or even on a page that’s not readily accessible through your navigation – such as a special “landing” page. Have one of “special, invitation only” items (they were considered “events” in non-pandemic days) every MONTH (yes, every month!), so that prospective parents can find out about something different that may appeal to them. For instance, September may have an invitation to the opening all-school Mass or Welcome Service; October may have a Saints Pageant in preparation for All Saints Day on November 1; November might have a Thanksgiving assembly; December – there’s all kinds of things you can do. And, for safety’s sake, you can invite parents to experience them live via a Zoom or other conferencing livestream. You get the idea.
3) Prepare a series of letters to parents from:
– a parent who is a raving fan of your school to a parent who is considering enrolling their child in your school;
– a faculty member to the prospective child;
– a student currently enrolled in your school to a child who may be enrolled in your school; and
– an alum (one that has gone on to do successful things) to a parent considering enrolling their child in your school.
Send one of these every other week to the family. You can also send the family a link to your school’s financial aid application if your policies permit them to apply for financial aid before their students are admitted. All these things should keep your school “top of mind” of the prospective parent.
SchoolAdvancement.com has prepared a sample form to record demographic information about your families, and on the back is a tracking mechanism to help you track your contact progress with the family. There’s also a system of dates associated with each of the tasks which you can find by visiting this link. It really helps to use a tool to automate scheduling these tasks so that they populate on your calendar once an appointment with a parent of a prospective student has been completed. If you’d like some information about a tool that can help you schedule these tasks, drop an email to email@example.com with “Task Scheduler” in the subject line.
There’s also a research-based enrollment estimating tool which can help your school develop a target enrollment for the coming year. For more details, visit this link. The enrollment estimators for the coming school year will be updated later this month.
You can also look for these tools under the “Enrollment” navigation tab in the “The ARMED Elements” drop-down at the top of the page and navigate to “BASIQS.”
© Michael V. Ziemski, SchoolAdvancement, 2006-2021