When some experts speak of “enrollment” or “admissions,” it’s oftentimes lumped together with “retention,” since retained students + newly enrolled students = total enrollment. Being one to always “buck the system” and question the status quo, I have come to know that the process of retention is distinct from enrollment. Enrollment is the process of changing a mindset of a parent from that of an external constituent to that of an internal constituent. The process moves the parent from hearing about the school, visiting it, attending activities and events, and discerning the best educational option for their child to becoming an active participant in the school community, knowing that they are now partnering with the institution they’ve chosen to form their child.

Enrollment presents the challenge of constant and meaningful communications with the parent in the manner the parent is most comfortable – email, letters, phone calls, etc. Retention, however, employs an entirely different strategy – one that we have to be willing to FACE.

FACE is the acronym created by the four areas of importance in retention – faith, academics, community and experience. While these can also be considered to be important in the enrollment process, the parent is only getting glimpses of these aspects during that time. It’s seeing the package as a whole that will help a parent to judge the value of the experience in relation to the potential hardship tuition places on the family.

Remember, however, that parents, even in difficult economic times, will pay for extraordinary experiences. It’s a quality that makes members of Generation X and Millennials (the parents currently in our schools) different from members of the Great or the Silent Generations that built the majority of our faith-based schools (those grandparents that continue to sacrifice to support organizations and causes that are meaningful to them) and Baby Boomers who have been reaching retirement age for about 13 years now.

A quick glance at these four areas:

  • Faith – A school’s “Faith Identity” is paramount. While it’s important students know the basic tenets of one’s faith, one cannot forget that actions speak louder than words. A commitment to service by living out Gospel values in a spirit of social justice allows the word (and, indeed, the Word) to become flesh, right here, right now.
  • Academics – A high-quality, rigorous and relevant curriculum in a faith-based school is considered a “given” by most, if not all, parents. To offer anything less is an insult. Schools must remember that children will achieve to the level they are held accountable to. In other words, just because a child is in third grade doesn’t mean they must do third grade work. Children take pride in accomplishing more difficult tasks, and seeing their success, are internally motivated to continue to achieve.
  • Community – Do children feel that they are an integral part of the school – that it would be something “less” if they weren’t there? Imbuing a sense of self-worth in children isn’t just to make them feel good about themselves; it’s to make them realize they’re important to the community. This is ESPECIALLY important with today’s Millennial generation – which are the majority of students in junior high school and older, AND the parents who are enrolling their children in elementary school!  It’s almost as if they are innate community builders, wanting to gather and “hang” with their friends. They really don’t care what they’re doing with their friends – just so long as they’re with their friends. Personally, I consider myself blessed because our adult children know us as their parents, but they also enjoy going on vacation with us, and still spending time together as a family.  Today’s Millennials not only want, but LONG, to share meals around the table as a family…and if they can’t do it with their family, they’ll do it with their friends. Even when they’re “by themselves,” they’re on the computer or their mobile device, connected with the communities they’ve created through socialization technologies.  If you’re not aware of the power of social networking by now, you’re not only missing the boat, you’re not even at the dock yet.
  • Experience – Perhaps most importantly, it’s all about “the experience.” What kind of experience are your children having in the classroom? Are they engaged learners, interacting with one another to accomplish small group projects, or does the teacher make them sit in neat rows, keeping their eyes on their own papers, lecturing incessantly day after day? Here’s the litmus test – are the children generally enthused about coming to and being a part of the school, or do they sit at their desks, elbow on the desktop, chin and cheek resting on their hand, staring up at the ceiling, or looking for something to “DO” rather than being forced to sit and listen for 40 to 50 minutes at a clip? The “experience” must also, and, more importantly, apply to their parents and guardians as well. What is their “experience” of your school? Do they feel they are part of the educational process, that they are truly partners in education with the teacher and the school…or are they viewed as “helicopter” parents, always hovering over their children, and, in the teacher’s mind, hindering their children’s education. If a teacher says, “I wish these parents would just leave me alone,” that’s an indication that you need to watch the retention figures of children matriculating to the next grade from that class. Why?  If that’s the experience that parents and students are having, then next year’s tuition bill which arrives in the mail could be the stepping stone to disenrollment.

© Michael V. Ziemski, SchoolAdvancement, 2007-2022 (Original Publication Date: 20070430)