Just like that, COVID-19 has forced schools to close their doors—likely for the remainder of the school year. At an unprecedented pace, you’ve launched distance learning, hosted virtual yield events, and have figured out a baseline for collaboration. Unknowingly, you’re making quick progress along the Enrollment Management COVID-19 Response Curve.
As you continue to adapt, it’s critical to look forward and plan your enrollment management strategy for the 2021-2022 school year. That means being prepared, both mentally and technically, for the following scenarios:
- Waves of school closures next year. Experts agree that while things may open back up, until we have a vaccine we should be prepared for additional closures during the next school year. This means being prepared to run your full admission process remotely.
- An economic downturn. Some economists have suggested that this extended shut-down could lead to the next Great Depression. It is likely that there will be fewer families that can afford the cost of private or independent school education for their children.
- Attrition of current families. “Summer Melt” may be heavier than normal and it could extend into the school year as families are impacted in different ways or as they react to the potential of extended closures.
Of course, we all hope that none of these things happen. We dream of quickly getting back to normal with all those happy faces filling our schools. But we can’t count on that. Everyone must be prepared for the possibility of recruiting new students virtually, during a year of economic and emotional uncertainty, in an environment that is more challenging and competitive than ever before.
If we plan accordingly and pivot in the face of these challenges, we can get to a place where we have healthy people, healthy enrollment, and a bright new horizon for the start of school.
Read on as we explore the Five Phases of the Enrollment Management COVID-19 Response Curve and share how you can make the shift from “reacting” to “succeeding”.
Phase 1: Reacting (February-March)
The first phase of the response to COVID-19 for private school enrollment teams is the Reacting Phase. This likely comes as a surprise to no one since we’ve all experienced it first-hand, and are hopefully finally beginning to emerge from it.
Phase one was “all hands on deck” as we work to triage the most pressing and immediate issues in an ever-changing and rapidly degrading environment. This was the time when many of us developed crisis communication plans and made quick pivots to switch from in-person to virtual yield events and campus visits.
This phase was often wrought with stress and uncertainty, as we worked to put on a strong facade for the families we serve while also tackling our own fears and emotions. Not only that, but it is also the phase when most of us switched from officing on campus to working remotely, likely surrounded by a bevy of new colleagues ranging from pets to children.
Phase 2: Adapting (March-April)
Phase two is Adapting. At this point, we’re beginning to settle into our “new normal”—a phrase that may be overused but is nevertheless true. Our comfort level with new tools like Zoom and Slack, as well as with our new processes begins to increase. We also begin to have a better understanding of what is working, and what is not.
Hopefully, by phase two you’re beginning to develop new rhythms and routines that allow you to feel a bit more settled, though perhaps no less stressed as “stay at home” orders and campus closures are further extended.
Now is the time to start giving some thought to next year and taking stock of your current process and tools. You don’t need to have all the answers, rather you are asking the question, “What needs to be done?”
This should include evaluating your current messaging to determine if it needs to be refreshed. Does your value proposition change in a world where campus visits (or perhaps even on-campus learning altogether) are eliminated for months at a time? Does your website reflect your updated value proposition?
It’s also a good time to revisit your marketing plan. Likely, many of the channels you once used to recruit new students, like on-campus events and school fairs, may no longer be viable. Now is the right time to explore new opportunities via social media, direct mail, ambassador programs, digital ads, and more.
List out all of the parts of your admission process that currently require paper or mail (applications, recommendations, transcripts, contracts…). Also consider in-person visits, on-campus meetings, and committee reviews. If any of these are critical, you will need to evaluate alternatives.
Think about how you work and collaborate with your team to communicate with families. Do you have the tools to be able to consistently engage in a personalized manner no matter where you are? Remember, you are likely going to have to convert at a higher rate to maintain enrollment.
Phase 3: Evaluating (April-May)
The next phase is Evaluating and represents a turning point in our response to COVID-19 as independent school enrollment leaders. At this point, we make a shift from reactive to proactive as we begin to evaluate potential tools necessary for the next admission cycle, as well as changes to outdated processes. Note: the earlier you can get to this stage, the better, so you have plenty of time to implement the solutions you buy and/or build.
Research what you will need in these tools and processes, talk with other admission teams about their systems to get ideas, build a list of questions you need answered to make an informed decision, connect with different solution providers for demonstrations, and work to gain buy-in from the stakeholders necessary to make purchase decisions and process changes.
Prioritize the projects that need to be completed first by thinking of the date they’ll become a necessity. While it’s likely too late in the year to implement a fully web-based student information system for the start of the school year, puzzle pieces that are possible to undertake at this point include website changes, online enrollment management solutions, viewbook updates, and more. Generally, it’s best to have those ready to use by August or September. You can then shift your attention to other tools such as systems for running live virtual tours and open houses as these won’t become crucial pieces until a bit later into the fall.
Emotionally, phase three is when stress can be displaced with determination as you begin uncovering new ways to build a strong class with a host of new tools and approaches. It may also be tinged with a bit of impatience since you may be excited to put the new processes and tools you’ve developed into place.
Phase 4: Implementing (May-July)
Phase four of the Enrollment Management COVID-19 Response Curve is Implementing, and it’s when you get to officially launch all of the messaging, processes, and tools you researched and committed to in phase three.
For internal processes, it means creating documentation and training for your team. If you’re launching new messaging, remember to update all of the appropriate places, including your school’s website, ads, emails, landing pages, viewbooks, and more. You’ll also want to make sure your entire team is alerted to any such changes.
Phase four is when you’ll also begin implementing the new tools that you evaluated and purchased during phase three, allowing you to engage your prospective and re-enrolling students in deep and meaningful ways even without being physically present. Be sure to select vendors that offer strong training and onboarding, along with continued customer support to ensure you get the most out of any tool you purchase.
This is also the ideal time to develop the goals and metrics that you’ll use to measure your success over the coming admission season.
Phase four is typically marked with excitement as you finally get to put the hard work from previous phases to work, officially launching your application and with it a new admission season.
Phase 5: Maturing (August-May)
Phase five is also known as Maturing. While the heaviest lifting has been done by this point, it’s important to continue to optimize your processes and tools. Continue to consistently evaluate the progress toward your admission goals and refine your metrics for success, like funnel conversion rates, yield, and more.
It’s also key that you continue to evaluate your tools and processes on a regular basis. With an environment that’s changing as quickly as the one we’re currently operating in, what worked last month may not work this month.
Now is also a good time to seek out additional areas for growth. Is there an opportunity where a slight tweak can greatly improve conversions in the admission funnel, like adding a personalized, automated communication plan to convert inquiries to applicants? Is there a new channel, like digital ads, that you haven’t tried but perhaps could? Continue to optimize and expand upon how you work internally as an admission team, as well as how you interact externally with your prospective families.
Phase five is best represented by the feeling of confidence. At this point, you’re working your plan and tweaking it to better your results. You’ve got this. Own it!
We’re certainly operating under unusual and unprecedented circumstances. It’s easy to get stuck in phase one, reacting to fire drill after fire drill. Yet we urge you to look ahead toward the future phases of the Enrollment Management COVID-19 Response Curve. Now is the time to begin making the shift from reacting to adapting, evaluating, implementing, and beyond. Before we know it, a new admission season will be upon us. Ready or not.
Want to get ahead of the curve and learn more about virtual admissions and enrollment? Book time with one of our product experts.