About 15 years ago now, the Catholic high schools of a local Diocese were given a directive to hire admissions directors.  While it seemed a bold step at the time, especially since such a position may not have been budgeted for, it was carried out.  And although there was quite a bit of trepidation, guess what happened?  Enrollment increased!  It was just one of the steps that schools were directed to carry out as part of a plan to increase enrollment in the schools.

Some of these steps are verbatim, just because the wording is excellent.  Others are paraphrases of the steps that were offered:

  1. Promote a strong Catholic identity and offer a superior academic program.
  2. Adopt or affirm a clear “identity,” “image” or “brand.”
  3. Identify a unique quality of the school – a program of study, a special course, an unusual opportunity – and market it.
  4. Employ a full-time or part-time Director of Enrollment Admissions with background/training in the field, and develop specific goals for which that person is accountable.
  5. Form an Enrollment Task Force, with membership to include the Enrollment Director, a member of the Administration, Alumni, Current parents, Former parents, and Students. Also, create a plan to involve the following in enrollment building: President, Principal, Faculty, Students, Parents.
  6. Set up an enrollment calendar in advance of each school year, consulting with elementary schools to avoid conflicts. The calendar will include all enrollment building activities, be part of the overall school calendar to avoid conflicts, and will be sent well in advance to each feeder elementary school
  7. Abide by established “Partner School” guidelines. High school representatives may visit or participate in enrollment events only of their partner schools; and may send mailings only to principals and students in their designated partner schools;
  8. Build positive relationships with principals and teachers in partner schools and with local pastors by inviting elementary principals and pastors to school events, and demonstrate gratitude for participation.

It’s interesting that nothing is mentioned about a Web site or other marketing collateral, since marketing is a priori to enrollment growth.  That’s because there was already a marketing plan in place which included marketing strategies, as well as communication with donors to support Development’s efforts.  Effective marketing increases inquiries to the school; effective enrollment practices turns those inquiries into enrollments.

You’ll see that many of these activities are not just enrollment-based, but are rooted in marketing (finding a “remarkable” quality of your school) as well as development (building relationships).  However, one significant challenge is how elementary schools can do the same thing.  While enrollment increased at the high schools, elementary schools saw a decline in enrollment.  Why?  Schools lamented the fact that they didn’t have the resources to add personnel, nor time to do all those things outlined in the directives.  Today, schools are facing even larger challenges still interested parent aren’t allowed to visit the school in person.  So what are schools to do now?

Just as school curriculums have had to adapt to incorporate significant technologies, and shift from “classroom first” to a “remote first” mindset, marketing efforts need to change as well.  Note that Web sites used to be designed for the computer, and then had to have an app so mobile devices could access the site.  It’s not that way anymore.  Effective Web sites are designed with a “mobile first” mentality, since if it doesn’t look good on a mobile device, the inference is that the school is not up to speed with technology.  I’ve seen schools that have paid tens of thousands of dollars for their school’s Web site, and it looks fantastic on the computer…yet when viewed on a mobile device, the text of important messages blended into the background colors of the site and couldn’t be read.  Marketing and enrollment efforts need to shift to using today’s technologies not only to attract, but to engage parents of prospective students.

Applying this to your Catholic or Christian school, a simple solution might be to provide the same type of format, but replace “Partner Schools” with “Partner Parishes” or “Partner Churches.”  Reach out to parishes or churches that send children to your school, and develop those relationships.  You’re fulfilling a key role in the “training up” (Proverbs 22.6) of the children of those parishes and churches.

By the way, if you’d like to know how one school has flipped the messaging that’s usually presented to parents to reflect their new approach to using technologies, send an email to schooladvancement@gmail.com with the words “Invest Mindset Flip” in the subject line!

© Michael V. Ziemski, SchoolAdvancement, 2010-2020 (Original publication date: 20051010)