The “doom and gloom” attitude surrounding private school enrollment isn’t just old-hat, it’s exhausting. And it’s not getting you anywhere. By now, you know the dynamics. Despite the demands to increase student enrollment, private school enrollment throughout the United States has flatlined. According to the 2019 US Census, enrollment in K-12 private schools remained around 4.4 million, demonstrating little to no increase in student numbers.
While it’s important to honestly acknowledge enrollment challenges, it’s equally, if not more important, to look for actionable ways to rise above the declining numbers and rates.
Private schools are constantly implementing new, fresh ways to attract and recruit more students to their schools. And the schools that innovate often experience success in a variety of ways, including exceeding their admission and enrollment goals. We’ve gathered together 5 strategies we’ve seen private schools implement that successfully increased student enrollment at their school.
Here are 5 tactics your private school can learn from and put into action to help boost enrollment:
1. Know & Share Your Unique Value Proposition
When families are evaluating multiple educational options, you need to separate yourself from the pack. One powerful and relatively simple way to do that is by telling your school’s story.
A concise value statement, like the one below from Bishop O’Dowd High School, helps families quickly understand what you have to offer, and how your school can help develop their child. The more specific you can be, the more your statement will stand out. Take a unique angle on your school’s values to make sure you get your message across.
Think comprehensively about the benefits every team and department on your campus provides. Your admissions, athletics, and other departments all have unique value propositions. These can be shared in various places like:
- Your website homepage
- The athletics page
- Email campaigns
- Tuition page
- Giving forms
To further reinforce your value proposition, accompany it with videos, photos, and testimonials.
2. Personalize Your Message
Marketing has evolved vastly over the last ten years. A single core message broadcast out on a billboard or commercial does not hold the same power it once did. You will likely need to personalize your messaging for it to be effective and reach more families.
Another way to not only increase enrollment but also encourage a diverse student body within your school is through segmented messaging. Your school’s parents and students carry different pain points and concerns. Creating research-backed school personas can help you speak more directly to each parent or student’s goals, concerns, and interests. Personas allow you to communicate in a way that connects you to families on a deeper level.
Your prospects can identify their unique needs at the top of your enrollment funnel whether it’s in the first contact with your admissions team or an optimized inquiry form.
That way as the conversation continues you can provide the information they need such as financial aid availability and specific details on extracurricular activities.
For example, if a family wants more information on your school’s basketball team you can invite them to the next game, and make sure you connect them with the team coach at a future open house. Moreover, if they mentioned a concern over affordability, you can make sure they receive more information by email regarding financial aid opportunities.
3. Never Stop Nurturing
On average, it takes five touchpoints, or specific interactions and communications, before a family applies and commits to a school. However, many students, and often the best-fit students will require even more touchpoints.
The amount of follow up needed may sound overwhelming when managing all your prospects and re-enrollments. However, by automating various touchpoints along the way, keeping in mind your personas, you can still speak to individual prospects’ needs with reduced effort and time.
Lead nurturing uses automated communication to help provide the information families need, when they most need it. Using lead nurturing helps you streamline your process without compromising individualized and personal messages.
Nurturing requires more than just getting students to an open house or admissions event — although those have their place. From the information you gather in your initial inquiry along with further details captured by your team and documented in your CRM, you can schedule personalized follow-ups and plan events focused on what’s most important to prospective students.
Personalized Follow-Ups May Include:
- A text message individually inviting a student to an open house via his or her preferred communication channel
- Sending an email reminder to a prospective family about an upcoming shadow day with helpful parking information
- Pre-scheduled follow-up calls to provide financial aid options to families who are concerned about their financial situation
- An automated prompt in your CRM to mail a viewbook to a family
Each unique and personalized interaction gives you the opportunity to stay top of mind with your prospective families.
Let’s go back to the example of a family showing interest in financial aid and your school’s basketball team. Your lead nurturing plan encouraging them to apply could look like this:
4. Leverage Your Fans
Raving fans are your best advocates. And they often create positive buzz around your school. If you’re not harnessing that energy or highlighting that love, you’re missing out. Make sure you have easy ways for students and parents to share their love of your school. Here are some examples of ways your fans can help spread the word about your school:
Use social and email sharing to get the word out.
If you have an upcoming school event, email your actively enrolled families to let them in on it. You can also invite them to share your school’s social posts to help promote your events. Or, include a request at the end of your email to forward the email on to families who might be interested so you can drive more prospective students to your open houses.
Use social proof to help families see why real-life students and parents love your school.
Social proof can be displayed, and even requested on your school website. Interview your campus’ biggest fans to create written or video testimonials. These can be short and can come from various people at your school including parents, faculty, and students.
Testimonials can provide an inside perspective on what students love about the school, whether it’s the teachers, classes offered, or the extracurricular opportunities. Authentic and organic stories can help prospective families move further along in their journey of deciding to enroll at your school.
One of our customers, Eastern Christian School, even lets website visitors filter short testimonials by students, parents, alumni, and faculty so families can get multiple perspectives of social proof.
For longer testimonials or video testimonials, prepare a shortlist of questions to ask during the interviews. For example, questions like, “What made our school stand out from other options?”, “How did you decide upon enrolling at our school?”, “What did the decision process look like and entail?”, and “Do you (or your child) have specific goals for your future? If so, do you feel our school will help you meet those goals?” are a great place to start.
Create NPS surveys and feature feedback on your website.
NPS reviews are a great way to get honest feedback about your school and can be a powerful tool to help promote your school. The bar below provides a visual of net promoter scores, the three groupings (detractors, passives, and promoters), and how likely families, or customers, are to recommend your product, or in this case: your school.
Leveraging these reviews in the right way can be a clear selling point for families and a convincing and data-driven representation of how great your school is. You can also find out which families are extremely likely to recommend your school to other families for more word of mouth potential.
Furthermore, surveys are a great way to get feedback and honest comments about your school that you could potentially share. Use your positive reviews to help market and promote your school.
You can even survey your current families throughout the school year and implement their feedback to encourage retention. When they provide actionable comments your campus can address, pay attention and make the necessary changes. In doing so, you can yield increased overall enrollments for next fall.
Design, create, and gift swag.
Offering swag, or school-branded clothing and merchandise is a great way to leverage your fans’ love for your school. Create custom t-shirts for your school pride days or pep rallies.
You can also spread awareness of your school by giving families tote bags, stickers, or a car decal when they enroll. Doing so not only shows them you care and gives them something exciting to open, but it also helps get your school name and brand out so more people begin to recognize it.
5. Drive Enrollments Via Data-driven Insights
Data is an essential part of increasing enrollment. Before you can move forward and set specific and realistic enrollment goals, you need to know how your admissions team has performed historically.
Audit your admission process and take a closer look at your admission funnel to identify bottlenecks preventing more prospects from applying and enrolling. To pinpoint bottlenecks, check conversion rates at each stage of your admission funnel and monitor retention rates. Next, verify at which stage prospects are most likely to fall off, or fail to convert, so you can improve your overall funnel. Furthermore, analyze how often your team checks in with prospects and what communication methods are most effective.
Reviewing your analytics can also help you uncover a wealth of other information like the types of students that are most likely to enroll at your school. Or, which emails received the most opens and responses. Smart inquiry checklists can help you optimize followup communication based on your prospect’s profile giving you more options to drive up your enrollments.
After implementing these strategies, you can make further data-driven choices by seeing what enrollment strategies move the needle most. This can help with resource allocation and driving your admissions numbers up even further.
It’s hard to move in the right direction when you don’t know where you’re at. Ignoring or simply not using data when seeking to increase enrollment is like going on a hike with no map and setting off through the forest without a compass to guide you. There’s a chance you’ll get where you need to go, but you’ll probably waste a lot of time and energy in the process.
Use your data to get your bearings, see where you’ve been, figure out where you need to go and keep you on track as you move forward.