Marketing Your School: Filling Your Seats
I remember the anxiety very well, as though it were yesterday Senator Elliston Rahming had hired me to be the Deputy Director of a new private school he was starting from scratch. And I do mean from scratch. The budget for our first year would come entirely from tuition income. Period. Moreover, I was charged with making sure the seats were filled by the time we opened for business in September 1995. Now, remember that back in the 90s the Internet was in its infancy. There was no social media to trumpet the opening of our new school. We only had the local press and word of mouth. Against that backdrop, let me pose some questions to heads of boarding schools, owners of boarding schools, and anybody interested in filling seats at their school.
1. My school's enrollment is declining. I can't afford a marketing professional. What should I do?
Saying that you can't afford a marketing professional is like saying you can't afford insurance. It's a must-have. I understand that you are thinking that marketing is a major expense. Don't think of it that way. Think of marketing as a profit center. You see, when the marketing professional does her job, you will see results. If your budget is really tight, I suggest that you interview a recent college marketing graduate. Your giving her a job where she can prove how good she is will benefit both of you. Her accomplishments will shine in her resume. Your seats will be filled.
Alexis Marinopoulos writes in The Enrollment Blog:
"Why are some schools winning the enrollment game while others are losing?
Large endowment? Convenient location? Great facilities? Perfect college acceptance rates? Star teachers? Sure, all these things are very important. Whether you are an independent school, charter school, faith-based parochial, public or any other type of school, you know this.
However, some schools have only some (or even none) of those things and have seen an upsurge in enrollment. They aren’t just surviving, they’re doing even better than before. How is this possible?
Essentially, these schools have adjusted their strategies. They’ve invested in enrollment campaigns. Successful schools are investing between 2.5% and 10% of their annual budget in enrollment marketing, and it’s paying off big time."
2. What resources can an enrollment professional bring to our school that we don't already have?
Where do I begin? An experienced enrollment professional or a firm offering enrollment solutions offer proven results and sound methodology in today's complicated market. These professionals know how to find students how will be a good match both for your school and for the students. They use a wide variety of techniques to reach families who may have never heard of your school, or, at best, know very little about your programs and philosophy which may well be just what they are looking for.
Read Tom Ostapchuk's article The Secret to Increasing Private School Enrollment. It opens with this statement of fact:
"The school budget, the programs offered, and the teachers on staff all stem from the number of students that enroll at your school. It’s your bottom line. Every private school struggles to continue increasing student enrollment, simply due to the number of education choices available to students. Focusing on increasing enrollment requires a fully coordinated effort and often new approaches to programs offered at the school. In this blog, we’ll focus on how to leverage what makes your school unique – and how to tell everyone about it."
3. I have an admissions team which resists change and new ideas. How do I handle them to grow our enrollment?
Every institution has dinosaurs. Mind you, digital dinosaurs are a challenge. Are you greeted with a chorus of "I don't use Facebook" or "Our print catalog has been effective for the last 50 years" when you mention using social media as part of your marketing strategy? This is a major reason why you need an enrollment professional working with your admissions team. As Isaiah put it centuries ago, you are a prophet without honor in your own country. Engage the enrollment professional. She will come and spend a few days at your school. Magically your admissions staff will discover this incredible new tool called social media to help them reach their admissions goals. They will tell you in all candor that they really think it will work. The enrollment professional will have them thinking that it is their idea, after all.
Ralph Cochran's article Who Are Millennial Parents and How Do I Market My Private School To Them? will help you understand the kind of change which has to come about in your admissions team.
4. In recent years we have had difficulty retaining students. I am not sure whether the problem is our facilities, our program, or a combination of both. Can an enrollment professional help us with this?
A sagging retention rate is another metric which can be fixed with the help of an enrollment professional. She's helped other schools identify the root causes of unsatisfactory retention rates. She will be able to do the same for you. Unfortunately, once she has identified what is causing students to leave, then you will have to follow her suggestions for fixing the problem. I suspect that you will probably have to involve your board of trustees if the retention issue stems from a lack of or poor facilities, problems with the curriculum and the teaching. Your enrollment professional will function as a consultant for you and your board. She will lay out a roadmap for future success. She also will show you how to implement that roadmap.
3 Reasons Families Leave Schools – and How to Retain Them on GradeLink addresses this issue which vexes many schools.
5. Our immediate need is to have every seat filled when school opens. However, I am concerned about how things will look in a year or two as a major employer is leaving our metro area next year. Can an enrollment professional help develop both short-term and long-term strategies for us?
Enrollment professionals have the experience to deal with both short-term and long-term enrollment strategies. They will help you develop a playbook which will yield results quickly, provided that you implement the steps in that playbook. Enrollment professionals know what they are doing. And they will be very open about their accomplishments improving admission rates and improving retention rates for other schools with which they have worked.
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