In his book, “The Eighth Habit,” author Stephen R. Covey (1932-2012) makes a profound statement: “People play differently when they’re keeping score.”

Think about it!  A volleyball game is pure fun if the score doesn’t matter. But when players are keeping score, set-up strategies develop, rotations are changed for maximum effectiveness, and teammates support one another.

So if keeping score matters, why don’t we do it when we’re enrolling students in our schools?

Sure, we say “We have 10 more Kindergarten than last year,” but what happens if “only two” students per grade disenroll from your K-8 school every month during the school year. Even though you have 10 more incoming students, you’ll actually have 8 fewer total students in the school.

SchoolAdvancement’s BASIQS (Bringing Additional Students In to Quality Schools) program includes the Enrollment Estimator (TM), a followup-tracking system, and a scorecard so that a month-by-month picture of enrollment can start to develop when you analyze the data…and you must analyze the data to see if there are trends which develop. Perhaps you’ll see more students disenroll in February than in any other month; or perhaps you’ll see that your school enrolls more new students in February rather than January when you come back from holiday/mid-year/semester break.

One Catholic PK-8 school that used it found that they had an uptick in enrollment at 6th grade.  They discovered these families were planning on enrolling their children at the local Catholic high school, and wanted their children to get to know the children with whom they’d be sharing their high school educational experience.

Tracking enrollment is only one of the most important things you can do to grow your school’s enrollment since each student is associated with a particular income to the school. The other four important things (which make a 5-element system – see what I did there?) are:

  • Maintain the enrollment you already have with retention strategies;
  • Adopt and implement an enrollment program with regular follow-up of families with prospective students;
  • Determine your school’s target market AND its remarkable qualities to market it for enrollment growth; and
  • Estimate your enrollment utilizing data rather than hope – because, “Even though hope is one of the three things that last, hope is NOT a strategy.”

Unlike the public school, which receives funding based on the number of students in the school district within an approved “public” setting, your faith-based or private school relies on tuition to maintain a healthy cash flow. To be keenly aware of enrollment figures keeps helps to keep the financial health of the school top of mind too, especially since the “faster” way to increase funds coming to the school is to enroll more students, rather than relying on fundraisers and financial support from outside sources.

You may be thinking, “But aren’t development dollars also important?”  Yes! But there are three important considerations:

1) If you need to pick one – even though both enrollment and development are long-term strategies – choose enrollment.  You can have all the money in the world, but if you don’t have students in the school, the school cannot continue to fulfill its mission, let alone advance toward its vision.  Further, your school may not have an Advancement/Development Director on staff.  There are a number of reasons for this, from a board’s reluctance to hire another professional in a struggling school, to a principal not knowing how to supervise a person whose main activity requires them to work outside the building.  And with that in mind…

2) Who is the “champion” of enrollment activity?  Do you have an Enrollment and Marketing Director on your staff?  Or do you have an Administrative Assistant who is also responsible for an abundance of other tasks tracking enrollment on a monthly basis, and analyzing the data to see if trends develop?  Do you even analyze the trends?  Or, do you look at the numbers daily, like stock brokers on the floor of Wall Street?  The process of trend analysis is best done at milestone points – such as monthly or weekly.  For instance, if you’ve ever tried to lose weight, when you focus on the numbers (like daily weighing), you will not reach your goal.  However, if you focus on the process, you will reach your goal.  Since a weekly assessment can help to build trends to see what you did during a particular week…rather than obsessing over the minutia of the day.

Remember that example of the school that found their enrollment uptick in 6th grade?  They had an Advancement Director who tracked the data, discovered what was happening, and reported it to the principal.  Dare I say if the school didn’t have that person on staff, the trend might have gone unnoticed.

Keep in mind that Enrollment = Sales.  There are very few businesses that can survive without a sales manager…yet that’s what’s happening at your school if you don’t have someone “owning” this key element.

3) Consider the “major gift” to your school.  Some groups I belong to consider anything over $25,000 to be a major gift.  Some that I’ve worked for consider $100,000 to be the “lowest level” of a major gift, but the fact of the matter is that your institution sets your major gift “threshold.”  For instance, I received the annual report from one of our local universities around this time several years ago.  Donor amounts are listed in the publication, and the “lowest level” of contribution that’s individually recognized is a gift of $500.  (Interestingly, they don’t publish the names in the publication anymore – they have a QR code that connects to their Website where the names and contribution levels are listed).

How do you set the Major Gift Threshold (MGT) for your school?  Think about this:  What is an amount that, if given to you by a donor, will take your breath away?  Let’s say that figure is $100,000.  Would a gift of $50,000 evoke the same type of reaction?  How about $25,000?  How about $10,000?  Keep going lower.  What if a donor or a local business gave you a check for $5,000?  Would you say, “Gee, isn’t that nice,” or, “Oh my goodness, this is fantastic!”?  When you get to the “Gee, this is nice” figure, rather than the “Wow, check this out!” number, you’ve reached your “Major Gift Threshold.”

How does this affect thinking about tuition?  Let’s go back to the Major Gift Threshold.  Do you get excited if someone would write a check for $5,000 to your school?  If you said, “Of course!” and if your per-student tuition is more than that figure, then every student enrolled in your school represents a major gift – not only for the experience your school is providing for that child and their family, but also when it comes to the revenue that will be coming to your school.

Now, think of those families that have two or three children enrolled in your school….

Hopefully, that realization has helped to shift your mindset a bit about your school’s “customers.”

There’s a reason Enrollment and Development are both considered “long-term” strategies in the ARMED framework of SchoolAdvancement.  They must be thought of in the same light, since “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above” (James 1:17).

© Michael V. Ziemski, SchoolAdvancement, 2006-2024