2020 has turned out to be a most unusual year. The coronavirus pandemic has turned everything upside down and inside out. Nothing is normal. All of this has impacted boarding schools in ways they never expected. While most private school boards of trustees are smart enough to have resumption of business plans in place and adequate insurance coverage for the school plant and the usual liability issues, very few school trustees ever expected to be dealing with so many challenges converging at the same time. Against that backdrop, I thought it would be useful to conduct a fictional interview with the head of a boarding school. After all, her concerns are probably yours as well.
Rob: What challenges at school in the fall of 2020 keep you awake at night?
Head of school: Oh, Rob! Where do I begin? There are so many things demanding my attention. My workday starts at 6 a.m. and ends at 10 p.m. if I'm lucky. And I work every day just to keep my head above water.
These days there's an app for everything. Apps have been around since Apple launched its App Store in 2008. Since then, Android's Play Store and Apple's App Store have grown to offer more than 4 million apps. Because apps reside on smartphones, they are always ready to use. Apps are an efficient way to shop, do your banking, schedule an Uber, scan your boarding pass, listen to your favorite music and so much more. That's why your boarding school needs an app for its alumni. Because your graduates are spread far and wide geographically, your alumni app will keep them in the loop. That's important to them because they love the school which gave them such a great start in life. It's vital for your finances because easily accessible information and communications will lead to successful annual fund drives and major gifts.
This video illustrates what an alumni app can do.
Obviously, your more recent graduates are an app-friendly lot. So, it just makes so much sense to keep in touch with them via the method which they use all the time. Snail-mail and even email will not get their attention the way your wonderful, informative app will. Snail-mail and email have their place. Your older alumni will probably appreciate your communicating with them that way. However, don't assume anything. Many 70 and 80-year-olds love using apps and their smartphones. They were ahead of the curve when they attended your school. After all, you taught
Why is social media a critical part of any boarding school's marketing program? The simple answer is that you need to expose your fine school to as many potential new clients as you possibly can. You know what your school offers and you are very proud of it. Unfortunately, families with boarding school-age children living a few hours away downstate or in another part of the country will never even hear about your school unless you make sure it is very visible. Not just visible. Very visible. While the following video is entitled 13 Proven Social Media Marketing Tips for Small Businesses & Entrepreneurs, Brian's information is relevant to administrators of boarding schools. After all, your boarding school is a business. Even if you have non-profit status, your school is still a business.
Thirty or forty years ago all a boarding school had to do to get the word out about its programs and desirability was to procure a listing in a boarding school directory and correspond with a group of educational consultants you knew could send potential clients your way. The boarding school directories are now all online. This site is a good example of the sort of online resources which 21st-century parents have. And those educational consultants? Well, bless them. They operate at warp speed with text and Skype communications.
So, what more does a boarding school possibly need to get the word out? Social media. Well-organized and beautifully executed social media! Why?
A day school is not an easy enterprise to run because, for one thing, it is dependent on the local economy and demographics. The closing of a major employer or the departure of young families from the area can challenge the existence of even the best-run private day school. In addition to those local conditions a boarding or residential school is also subject to national and global economic trends. Many American boarding schools have 10-20% of their students drawn from outside the United States. An economic downturn or civil strife can choke off the number of applicants coming from abroad. A weak national economy here at home can make it more difficult for parents to afford a boarding school education for their children. With these considerations in mind let's look at five challenges facing American boarding schools and some common sense solutions to those challenges.
1. The natural resistance to sending children to a residential school.
It is hard enough for most American parents to send their children away to college, much less boarding school. The idea of sending a fifteen-year old away to a residential high school meets with serious resistance from most parents. There are many reasons for this reluctance, but the primary ones are the high cost of boarding school and the feeling that the local public high school or private schools can do just as good a job of preparing their children for college. There's also a nagging concern that perhaps their son or daughter is not