A few years ago, I was privileged to sit-in on a conversation between two authors – one that wrote the book on the importance of differentiation and the other, and “innovation evangelist.”  Through the course of their discourse, I became greatly disturbed, as some of my fundamental beliefs about what I do were challenged.

And then I thought, “Hmm! I challenge people in schools every day.  I ask them to think differently about how they’re currently doing business, and offer new insights to help make their jobs easier and their customer’s experience more enjoyable.”

So let me challenge you, and some of your beliefs to kick off this new year with some new thinking.  Does your school:

– Take pride in the fact that it has been recognized a Blue Ribbon School, or is striving to be recognized as a Blue Ribbon School?
– Promote the fact that students have received offers from various prestigious universities and colleges?
– Contact the local newspapers to spotlight seniors who have signed letters of intent with sports programs at the collegiate level?

While these are great promotional opportunities, do you believe that such activities will help to increase enrollment at your school?

If so, what does the data say?

For several years now, I’ve challenged schools on what they include in their marketing materials.  Faith-based schools promote the fact that they have their faith identity infused in their curriculum, offer academic excellence and a safe and caring community (and, with the news of abuse that had been perpetrated by clergy during the previous century, the “safe” moniker becomes more subjective).

Yet, school administrators wonder why the school still struggles with enrollment issues.

The first reason is that there may not be an enrollment system in place; the second, however, deals with these marketing “touchpoints.”  The simple fact is that faith identity, academic excellence and a caring community are expectations, not differentiators, in the minds of your school’s customers – AKA tuition-paying parents.

Look at those three points listed above.  You may think that these special recognitions will certainly encourage parents to visit your school and enroll their children there.  Are there other schools that pursue the Blue Ribbon recognition?  Are there other schools where students receive offers from prestigious universities and colleges?  Are there other schools that contact the local newspaper to spotlight their students?

f you answered “Yes” to any of these questions, none of these recognitions make you a unique and remarkable educational environment for the child of a Generation X or Millennial parent.  It just points to the fact that your school is doing what it’s supposed to be doing.  You wouldn’t see a car being touted as a vehicle of outstanding quality because it had brakes, a steering wheel, and this awesome function that makes it go backward.

So why do parents choose your school?  Is it because:

– They want their child to be educated in the environment your school provides?
– They can’t pass the entrance exam for the prestigious private school in your neighborhood?
– It’s the only faith-based school in the community?
– They can’t afford the tuition at other private or faith-based schools in the community?
– They don’t want to send their children to the local public school?
– They don’t have time to homeschool their children?

If you’re saying, “Of course not,” to any of these statements, what does the data say?

If you want to know why your school’s “raving fans” are “raving fans,” ASK THEM!  Provide them with a one-question survey (no names) that asks, “Why did you enroll your child/ren in (Insert Your School Name Here)?”  You can offer them multiple choice answers such as the ones above, or leave room for an open response.  Encourage all families to give ONE REASON, and encourage all families to participate.  The data you collect will give you insight to the “essence” of your school’s community, and help redefine your mission, vision and position for your school.  More about that next month.