Many of the schools I speak with have had some great successes. One had an undefeated state championship football team, while another had students selected to represent the school at a worldwide event. Still another has its elementary students bringing home honors from a History Day competition, and many students in other schools are excelling in robotics, writing code and other activities associated with STEM/STEAM/STREAM curriculum.
Yet, amid all these great successes, many schools are still seeing their enrollment decline. When asked why, they still point to the same three factors: difficult economic times, shifting demographics, and a more “secularized” mindset of today’s parents of young children.
If you’ve been keeping track, those have been the same reasons used for the past two decades, and even during the 1990’s when this country experienced the greatest economic boom in its history. Use the same reasons over and over again, and it becomes the accepted norm. The question then becomes, “If this is the trend, then why is it surprising when a school closes?” The answer is usually, “We hope it will turn around.”
Unfortunately, if the school doesn’t do something different to turn the tide or reverse the trend, the future will continue to be difficult, fostering a vision that doesn’t inspire confidence in those parents who are seeking faith-based and private school options for their children.
The question I usually ask a school experiencing this downward trend in enrollment is, “Who’s responsible for enrollment?” The principal is responsible for the academic excellence of the school, the development director (if there is one) is responsible for developing relationships which foster additional revenue for the school from contributions and donations, yet enrollment is the main revenue generator for the school. If there is no enrollment director at a school, it would have the same effect as any major business who had no sales manager. Of course, this could be countered with the “small business” mindset that the owner or the manager is the sales manager. While it’s been said that 4 out of 5 small businesses fail before their first year is complete, that’s not really true. The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that 1 out of 5 new businesses fail within their first two years; 45% fail during their first five years, and 65% during their first 10 years. Still, there’s aren’t many parents today that are going to enroll their children in your school and then “see what happens” from year to year.
If a school has an enrollment committee comprised of volunteers who are responsible for enrollment growth, then the future of the school is left up to folks that may have other priorities in their lives. Usually, the person responsible for enrollment, if there is no designated enrollment director, is the principal. Unfortunately, it’s the principal who’s also the first line of defense when a teacher calls in sick. Not only is the principal then not in his or her office when a crisis arises, but there’s also no one to provide that all important conversation after parents take a virtual tour and then want their questions to be answered. Usually, if parents interested in a school arrive without an appointment and are asked to come back later or to schedule an appointment, that sends a message to the parent of the prospective student. Further, “how” they are asked has even a greater impact than being asked. If the person at the front office gives the impression that the parent’s presence is a disruption of her or his routine, then chances are quite slim that the parent will return for a tour at a later date.
In 2001, the author of “Good to Great,” Jim Collins, said “People play differently when they’re keeping score.” Attention is focused, energy is higher and successes are celebrated as another step toward achieving a win. By estimating your enrollment and planning for it for the following year, you’re setting a target to reach, rather than just accepting whatever happens based on what processes currently in place at your school, and may have been for the last decade or two…or three.
If you’d like a tool to estimate your school’s enrollment for the next school year, visit https://schooladvancement.com/?page_id=498
Find the section with the enrollment estimators, then visit the link to choose the right one for your school’s grade-by-grade configuration. You can download the file and save it to your Desktop to input your school’s historical tuition as per the instructions. There is also a suggested follow-up methodology and a scorecard you can use to “keep score” and play the enrollment game a little differently.
Who is responsible for doing all the tracking and all the follow-up necessary to reach the target that you can determine from this tool? That brings us back to the fifth paragraph of this article. At least estimating your enrollment based on data instead of pure hope will let you know what kind of plans you need to create for the coming school year. Not lesson plans, but administrative ones. The prophet Jeremiah has some great thoughts about plans.