enrollment recessionAccording to recent data released by the census bureau, private school enrollment has dropped significantly in the past decade. From 2002 to 2010 private school enrollment dropped from 5.4 million students to 4.5 million students, a nearly 17% decrease.

Speculation on why the decline has occurred varies from analyst to analyst. Some cite the recession, while others think more families are turning to charter and magnet schools. Regardless of the reason, independent schools around the nation are finding themselves competing for a smaller number of candidates in a dwindling applicant pool and looking for creative ways to attract new students.

private school enrollment drop

We speak daily with many successful independent schools that are experiencing increasing enrollment in spite of the national trend. I’ve asked several what they do differently and how they attribute these behaviors and tactics to their resiliency and they were kind enough to let me share their insights in this four part blog series. If you are a victim of the “enrollment recession”, you can implement the same ideas and get your school on the recovery path.

Step 1: Admissions and Enrollment Analytics

Have you ever analyzed your inquiry, applicant and enrolled student data? Your results might surprise you. Performing analysis on available data can often reveal insights that are overlooked during the admissions and enrollment processes. Consider these questions:

  • If you were to plot all of your inquiries on a map based on their home address, do you think you would find any patterns or dense points on the map?
  • Do you ask inquiries where they heard about your school during the admissions process?

If you could uncover how people are discovering your school, you would instantly gain invaluable primary knowledge of which outreach efforts were successful and which were not.

Geographic Mapping

Rich Moss, Admissions Director from the all-boy private school, The Heights School, in Potomac, Maryland uses free online geographic mapping services (like http://batchgeo.com) to create enrollment heat maps.

By plotting all the addresses of currently enrolled students/inquiries he quickly identifies marketing opportunities. Using this technique Rich reaches out to families he has built relationships with within the local parishes with the lowest enrollment and works with them to help recruit more students.

geographic mapping for admissions

Google Analytics

Another great way to uncover hidden gems (but this time from a website visitor perspective) is by installing Google Analytics on your inquiry and admissions pages. After installing the tracking code on the pages you want to track, you can quickly evaluate visitor behavior such as average page visit duration, most commonly clicked links, and navigation paths. This type of data can be used to optimize the website experience and increase the percentage of visitors who convert to inquiries. Google analytics is simple to install and can be learned with a little patience. Just ask your webmaster to follow these simple instructions:


After a successful installation, and a little search prowess, you can find lots of resources online that will help you navigate your way around the interface.

Optimization & Split Testing

Using analytics and other tools you should focus on optimizing your internet marketing to increase response rates. One popular and simple way to evaluate effectiveness of a landing page or an email in regards to click-through-rate is by performing an A/B (or split) test.

An A/B test is as simple as it sounds. You create two variations of a page, or email, with an end goal in mind. You send 50% of the viewers to your “A” page/email (the original) and the other 50% to your “B” page. The change can be as simple as a button color, different headline or picture change. It is ultimately up to you, but the less you change, the more validity the test holds.

The following example demonstrates a straightforward A/B test where the main image was changed. Which do you think would perform better at getting parents to schedule a tour?

“A” Page (Original):

request tour at school

“B” Page (Variation):

landingpage B blog

While this is not a real test, I can tell you from personal experience that the “A” page is more likely to succeed. It works better with the headline and people are always more receptive to human faces. Especially smiling faces. It helps give the school more personality and ties emotion to the school experience.

Most email services offer A/B testing, but if not, you can always manually split your list in half and send two separate campaigns.

For testing web pages, I recommend using Google Analytics Content Experiments which is very simple and takes only a few minute to set up with your webmaster. This is a great blog post which will guide you (or your webmaster) along the process, once you have created your two page variants:


Simple Surveys

Never forget the power of a basic survey. Sending out a post-event or post-admission survey can reveal insights digital analytics may miss. Some great survey questions include:

  • How did you hear about our school?
  • What was your favorite part of the admissions process?
  • What do you think could be improved in the admissions process?
  • Why would you refer/not refer our school to another parent?

Including a scale can also help you gauge an understanding of parents’ experience during the admissions and enrollment processes. On a scale of 1-10 you can have parents rate such things as:

  • Ease of admissions process
  • Ease of enrollment process
  • Responsiveness of admissions staff
  • Friendliness of admissions staff
  • Ease and accessibility of admissions information
  • Ease of navigation of admissions web page

Once you have compiled and summarized your survey data, you can identify opportunities for improvement and work towards improving your ratings for the following year using the same survey.

Read Part 2 of the “How to Beat the Independent School Enrollment Recession”


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  • Topics:
  • admissions analytics
  • enrollment analytics