The fall months offer your team the most optimal time to consider your enrollment marketing plan. For many of you, especially if you have rolling admissions throughout the year, the summer months are filled with last-minute inquiries, visits, and applications. But for most, by October, the dust has settled on who will be in your seats for this year’s academic year. Now what?
Take some time to evaluate your numbers, your processes, your tactics, and your wins and losses. Examine where your strengths were but also where you fell short.
- Analyze enrollment data, trends, and gaps
- Are there any new emerging patterns?
- Why did we fall short of our enrollment target for that grade?
- What is the most likely factor in our great numbers in those grades?
- How did we spend our budget last year? Best return on investment?
- Was our messaging clear? Did our personas hear us talking to them or was it a mass message?
- What feedback can we attain from new families who got accepted and are now enrolled?
- Can we ascertain anything from families who chose to go elsewhere?
These are just some of the hard things to look at with your team.
Now, let’s look forward.
Having done the hard work above, now it is time to anticipate next year. There doesn’t seem like enrollment coordinators have much time to rest because it is time to start thinking about next August. If you have rolling admissions, you know the work never stops. Sometimes you have a few families even join after Christmas. But even if your enrollment to future families doesn’t open up until spring. now is the time to look ahead.
- Where are our largest enrollment gaps for this upcoming school year?
- Are their enrollment patterns in other grades that concern you?
- Do we know who our ideal family is?
- While a mass marketing message is important, how do we target our communication?
- What programs do we need to highlight better for these personas to take note of?
- What stories do we need to curate that will resonate with these personas?
- What written stories can we tell better?
- Are there good audio interviews or podcasts we can record to tell a better story?
- What is our video strategy for telling our school’s story?
TIME FOR A COMEBACK!
If your enrollment numbers were a challenge this year, it’s time to look forward to this spring and bounce back! You can stage an enrollment comeback if you have the right system, strategy, and tactical approach!
I love to help Christian schools – how can I help you?
Have you done an honest assessment of the families who are enrolled in your school? I’m talking about an honest assessment.
- Are they 100% mission-appropriate? Are they aligned with your mission?
- Are they misfits who, according to the definition above, are students (and their families) “who fit badly” or are “poorly adapted”?
Regardless of the type of school you are (covenant or evangelical), you have to be selective in who sits in your seats. If you are a Christian school, there are some in your community will find that word “selective” as repugnant. They will equate your existence with that of the Lord’s church where we are to be loving, accepting, and welcoming to all. But as a school, you are a not-for-profit business that must think of the “product” you are providing. If families look at your school and do not perceive the fruit as being sweet, they will pass. If current families start to feel that “one bad apple spoils the bunch” (to stay on the fruit metaphor), they will leave before they are damaged.
There is not one algorithm or list of factors that you must use to ensure you are selecting mission-fit families. But here are a few of the most common and most important:
- Do they agree with your school’s mission, vision, and core values?
- Do they agree with your school’s approach to discipline from actions in or out of the classroom?
- Do they agree with your school’s approach to monitoring and correcting behavior even at home?
- Do they not only agree with but also consider themselves ambassadors for your school’s mission?
- Do they help you market the school via word-of-mouth?
In a time when enrollments can trend downward (as the price tag increases and the value of private education is often debatable among your market), it is easily justifiable for a school to loosen the evaluation and accept anyone with interest and the bank account to afford the school. If you do not mandate mission appropriateness, you will find yourself pulling your hair out in the future.
You may have a much more detailed list of factors when determining whether a student is accepted or not (based on their academic assessment, behavioral history at other schools, letters of recommendations, etc.), but one of them has to be whether or not this student and their parent(s) are mission-fits with your school.
If you need help in ensuring your school has an effective marketing system to ensure you have the most mission-fit families, I want to help. Click the link below and let’s start a conversation.
One of my chief rules in marketing is this:
“It is not about you. It is about them.”
This doesn’t mean that you do not need to tell your target audience about you. This is essential in the relationship and trust-building process between a service provider and customer.
For low-cost, low-risk decisions, this may not apply as much. If I am hungry and need a quick bite to eat, I might pull into whatever fast food is closest. There may not be a lot involved in my decision.
But for higher-cost and higher-risk decisions, this becomes essential. In the education space, parents will eventually explore your website and on-campus events for the critical information they need to make their decision. However, to set yourself apart from your competition, lead with your audience, not your offerings.
Rather than leading with:
- Look at our amazing list of extra- and co-curricular offerings
- See our spectacular athletic teams
- Be amazed at our high-quality performing arts groups
- Stand amazed at our SAT results
- Is your child tired of not getting to play, perform, or participate because of the size of your school?
- Is your son or daughter “stuck” and not thriving where they are?
- Do they feel overwhelmed by the class sizes?
- Are you confident your school is preparing your child for the future?
The first is all about you. The latter list is about the family’s need, problem, pain, frustration, or fear.
Here are some articles that reinforce this:
- Prospective parents prefer opportunities to play, perform and participate
- Can You Pinpoint Your Target Market’s Pain Point?
- Donald Miller of StoryBrand shares this video: “How to Get Anyone’s Attention”
If I can help you navigate a marketing message targeted to your target market, email me back today, I would love to help. Are you tired of trying the same ol’ marketing tactics and getting the same dull results, I am committed to helping Christian schools grow enrollment.
Randy Vaughn, Christian School Marketing Consultant
School is back in full swing! Your to-do lists are piling up and there is a great buzz on campus of a variety of different activities, not counting all the academic work!
Independent/private Christian schools need to think more about differentiation. This is what will set you apart in the marketplace. This will help you distinguish your school from other private nonsectarian schools as well as the public, charter and home school options around you.
Here are 7 activities that most schools do in the fall and an idea or two of how to optimize these activities in marketing your Christian school:
- Homecoming – because I live in Texas, Homecoming is always going to be in the fall although some schools I’ve worked with do it in conjunction with a winter or spring sport if they do not have football. At your Christian school, consider how Homecoming is different than at the public schools. While in Texas we have the crazy tradition of Homecoming mums (here’s an extreme example), your school may choose to do something in lieu of mums (traditional Texas mums can cost hundreds of dollars, which some students may choose to donate to a charity instead). Also, because your school likely smaller than your public school counterpart, you can recognize alumni differently, have alumni prayer gatherings before the Friday night game, and so much more. Homecoming can be a special event, but ask yourself: how different is what we do than our public schools around us? Carrying over some traditions is fun (HOCO dress-up days) but if you do not do anything unique, it might be worth looking at your annual traditions differently. Differentiation is critical to marketing.
- Grandparents Day – many elementary school across the country host a day for grandparents to come and visit the classroom and share a meal with their grandkids at their school. Again, if you’re school is smaller, perhaps you can do a special musical program or a performance by all of the students in elementary. Certainly you could involve your grandparents in a time of worship and prayer since you are not restricted by that like your public school colleagues are.
- Athletics – Cross Country, Volleyball, and Football are the most common fall sports, although your school may have others. How does your school differentiate itself at these sporting events? Do you pray before or after the game? Do you learn to integrate Scripture into your training of your athletes? Do you treat athletic training in the broader context of discipleship? How do you communicate striving for excellence but also enjoying the love of God? One school I worked with many years ago had an idea to launch a video series called, “The Making of a Kingdom Athlete.” They were already talking about spinning off a blog series and using the combination of written word and video to create vignettes to share with future families. The way you treat athletics should be noticeably different than the public schools.
- Fine Arts – whether it’s band on Friday night or some of the upcoming holiday performances (Veterans Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas), Fine Arts is a beautiful way to showcase your students’ talent. While you may lament that the size of Fine Arts program/facilities/equipment, how can you use your size to an advantage? Often at the large pubic school performances, there are limited solos. But at a smaller school, you can have more. While you still want to feature excellence, think of the different ways you can showcase individual talent. Your larger competitors simply cannot do that. This is an easy way to stand out.
- Annual Fund – most public schools do not have to have Annual Funds because they are funded by government sources. However at most privately-funded schools, the Annual Fund is a tool to bridge the gap between tuition revenue and the actual costs of school operations. The Annual Fund is a fundraising event, but it can be a great way to highlight the community aspect of your school. While outsiders may view it as a purely fundraising event, you can gather people together to pray for God to provide for the gap that exists. It also gives you plenty of opportunity to talk about some of the things your school is wanting to have in areas of facilities, technology, and safety. It provides a great platform to talk about the important things while future families listen in!
- Assessment – every school tests students, but it’s the government-mandated standardized testing that causes angst in parents and their kids. Often accused of “teaching to the test”, your private school does not have to abide by the same government standards (this is why it can be a great marketing tool for you). However, you can certainly talk about how you use benchmarks to assess your students’ academic progress (here’s how Eastern Christian talks about the difference). Parents do not like curriculum that is driven solely by a standardized test, however they want an excellent academic preparatory program. Use this differentiator to showcase you strong your academics are.
- Holidays – with Halloween, Veterans Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas, your schedules are full of holidays. Many Christian schools avoid Halloween (many public schools do as well), but you can showcase how you still have fun with various dress up days. Veterans Day is a great way for you to gather Veteran parents and grandparents for a celebration on your campus or you may want to ask to have your middle school or high school choir sing for veterans at a community-wide celebration. Because of the spiritual nature of Thanksgiving and Christmas (and how such spiritual connotation has been virtually removed from the public square), you should make sure and showcase your performances that talk about how you are “grateful to God” or in the context of celebrating the birth of Jesus.
This article is not meant to list out a thousand innovations – the point is to recognize that it is the way that your school treats the common factors is how future families will tell there is something different about you. Look for ways to take the commonly-shared experiences the public schools have and turn them into great marks of differentiation. Also, use this as a test to determine if you are any different than your competing private schools in the area. If you cannot find much difference, how do you expect a future mom or dad to find you unique?
I love helping schools create plans and strategize about reaching future families. If I can help you, please click here to schedule a 30-minute free phone consultation to learn about my coaching program specifically designed for Christian schools.
Randy Vaughn, Christian School Marketing Consultant
As you look at a new school year starting, your enrollment management team is finally able to take a breath and “relax”. Unless you are a school with locked-in enrollment numbers by the spring, you have hard at work all summer long, emailing, calling, and following up with those last-minute families who might enroll in the fall. While some of you with open enrollment may continue to see a few late-comers, for the most part, your admissions team finally gets to experience “summer”.
As you evaluate your enrollment status, here are few things to consider. First, let’s take a look back.
- Assess your Advertising: did that magazine ad drive anyone to your school? Did your radio…direct mail…social media campaign impact your numbers? While there are some difficulties in assessing some of the effectiveness of each one, you should at least acknowledge if something is worth doing for next year. Now is the time to evaluate, especially if you can provide any hard data to support your decision. Inevitably, a board member will approach you next spring wondering “why aren’t we doing that radio campaign again like we did last year? I thought that was brilliant!” If it didn’t work, then you’ll want data to show said board member.
- Self-Evaluation: take some time to evaluate yourself and your team. Where did you work from a place of strength? Where could you reallocate resources? Where do you need to spend more time? Less time? Hopefully your team can have an honest assessment so you don’t just start the treadmill over again in a few months without looking for ways to improve.
- Survey Says: consider reaching out to your new families and surveying them about their enrollment experience. Ask them about how they heard about you. Ask them to evaluate your admissions process. Ask them to give you candid feedback about your campus: appearance, communication, processes, etc. You can certainly do the same to your returning families, but these new families have the freshest eyes to see things most clearly.
- Retreat: if possible, get away from the office for at least one day for an off-site retreat (two days or more would allow you time to go even deeper). If you haven’t done any self-evaluation, this is the place to do it. But this is also a time to spend some moments reflecting with gratitude for your new families. Before you get too critical about processes, and before the onslaught of next fall’s admissions season begins, take time to be thankful for who came your way this year. You might even take a few minutes to write a few hand-written cards to some of your new families. Have some fun together and do some team development work.
- Plan Quarterly: look at the new 3 months. If you are reading this in August, pretty much examine your school calendar, the national calendar (holidays, cultural rhythms, etc.), and your community/city calendar and see what is ahead. This will likely take you to Thanksgiving, so if you need to go ahead and plan through Christmas break, do so. Included in this timeframe is likely the start of next year’s enrollment season. It may begin with re-enrollment efforts in December or early in the new year (hint: don’t wait to start re-marketing to your families….that begins now!) Look at your social media planning calendar and know what’s ahead in the next few months and get a jump on scheduling some posts on Facebook or using a tool like Grum for scheduling Instagram posts. Here’s a free social media/marketing content planning calendar that has helped many.
- Mind the Gap: you should be able to have a hard count for each grade as you start the new year and see where the enrollment gaps are. This should give you real clear direction for next year. Is this year’s Kindergarten class small? While you certainly want to work hard at getting better Kinder numbers next year, you might also look at ways to grow next year’s 1st grade class so that you can set yourself up for a strong future. If you project Middle School to be down, then start concentrating your efforts now on developing a strategy for filling those seats.
Don’t get too busy now too look back and to look ahead.
I love to help schools with their marketing, especially at this time of in the school calendar. I have been helping one school this past year that saw a 16% increase and another school who told me yesterday that they are almost 25 students more than they thought they would have when the board set the budget last spring. I would love to help your school as well!
Contact me for a free phone consultation – I am eager to help!
Randy Vaughn, Christian School Marketing Consultant