Retention is one of the most effective strategies for private schools, and one of the most worthwhile uses of busy admissions and enrollment leader’s precious and limited time. You’ve likely already experienced some of the benefits of retention- like creating a tight-knit community and a reduction in replacement costs (it costs five times more to attract a new customer than it does to keep a current one). Not to mention the impact that losing a student or family has on your community- it can be difficult for teachers, students, and faculty to see such an integral part of your school family go.
But knowing exactly how to lower your attrition rates can be tricky, particularly when the methods you’ve typically employed to increase retention may not work this year as you may have enrolled more non-traditional families- like ones that are using an independent school as a stop-gap until their public school goes back in person.
To help you retain every kind of family, we’ve gathered together a list of ideas that successful schools are using as part of their retention strategy.
14 Retention Strategies For Private Schools
Here are a few ideas of ways to increase retention at your private school:
1. Parent ambassador programs
Getting parents involved in an organized ambassador program is an excellent way to harness their unique power- and it won’t just benefit you during the enrollment process. They have the time, drive, and inside perspective to give your families in moments when you might not. Involving parents also gives them a role to play and helps them feel like the important part of the community you know they are. When people feel valued, they stick around.
2. Formalized retention committee
1 in 4 schools has a dedicated retention committee or team (EMA’s State of the Independent School Report). Creating a formalized retention committee can help you gain insight from a cross-functional team of school staff and teachers, build a strategic path to increase retention, and stay accountable to that plan. Think through who you’d like to invite to be part of the committee, establish meeting times, delegate tasks, and give regular updates on progress to stay on track and make sure your efforts are paying off.
3. The knownness survey
We first heard about this concept from Jessica Hart and David Darby from Lakefield College School at EMA’s annual conference. The knownness survey is a way to make sure everyone at your school knows each of the students by name.
After a few weeks of classes, survey your faculty members with a quiz to see if they can identify each student’s name based on a picture that appears on the screen. When students feel seen, they’ll be much more likely to find reasons to stay. The survey can also help you identify quieter students who may be flying under the radar so you can bring them into the fold.
4. Connect faculty and students
Retention efforts are not just your job as an admissions or enrollment professional. To be truly successful, you need everyone at your school to see retention as a whole school initiative and get involved.
One way to establish a strong relationship between your teachers, faculty, and students is to give faculty and staff a list of 2-3 new student profiles and have them connect or reach out before the end of October. You can also create touchpoints throughout the year so they keep up. Having faculty make a special effort to remember students’ names and a few key facts about them can also help them feel at home at your school.
5. Commit to your diversity and inclusion initiatives
Students who attend a school where no one looks like them or understands where they’re coming from can be a huge point of tension for families. The best way to retain students is to double down on your diversity and inclusion strategies. Make sure you’re hiring, recruiting, enrolling, and promoting diversity at every step and stage in your school.
6. Produce an educational blog or white paper
Educate everyone at your school on retention initiatives—from your CFO to your business office and teachers. Share information about your plans for retention, strategies you’re adopting, who is involved, and how they can get more involved. When everyone is on board with your plans and knows your goal, they can help you make those goals reality.
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7. Faculty workshops
Retention efforts are not just your job as an admissions or enrollment professional. To be truly successful, you need everyone at your school to see retention as a whole school initiative. Host faculty workshops to educate teachers to recognize signals that a student may be an attrition risk, share opportunities and roles that are available to them, and gather case studies from them.
Often teachers and faculty are the ones that will overhear a conversation or be involved when students are feeling out of place, or parents are unhappy with the school. Your faculty are a goldmine of information- don’t let it go to waste.
8. New student lunches
Host lunches in your admissions office and invite new students to hang out informally to extend your connection with them. If your school is still virtual- send new students a gift card or have lunch delivered to their homes and meet over Zoom. Provide time and space where you open up the floor and let them share their experiences entering into your school, tips or advice, and even any changes they would make. Showing your desire to learn from them and improve can mean a lot to the students, and help you avoid pitfalls for the next incoming class.
9. Parent socials
Host an event for your new parents. Use it as a time for them to build relationships, say thank you to them, celebrate having them at your school, and provide a time of sharing. You can do this in person or virtually. To add some fun in the case of a virtual event, send them a gift basket ahead of time with snacks and a beverage. Your goal should be to get to know them, help them get to know others, and build a community that will last. Gathering their overall thoughts, feelings, and reactions to being at your school and hearing likes and dislikes is a great way to help you gauge how families are doing.
10. Level-up days
You can also host, “level-up” days to get your students excited about the next grade, help them meet their new teachers, and build community. Consider doing these a few times a year and make sure your event timings line up with competitive school admission processes so you stay at the forefront of your families’ minds. You can host these in-person, or via Zoom.
11. 1:1 meetings
While it may not be feasible to have your Head of School meet with every new and returning family each year, consider planning formal 1:1 meetings occasionally as a part of your process to give parents a continued personal experience like the one they experience during the initial application process. Offer a similar level of one-on-one access to give families continued confidence in the overall vision of the school, and help them feel heard and valued. You can also leverage your other administrators as well.
12. State of school event or letter
Share how your school is doing via an event or even a formal letter. Families want to know about your school. They’ve invested time, money, and trusted you with their child. Unpack where you are at, share more about the health of school, and bring them into your exciting news. Share when enrollments are up, inform them of new programs as they become available, and let them in on new initiatives. They want to know, and the more they know, the more connected they’ll feel to your school.
13. Celebrate birthdays
This is a simple one. Make a point to acknowledge every single student’s birthday throughout the year. Give them a hand-signed card from their teachers and your office. Recognizing each of your students can be powerful and incredibly meaningful to them. It’s a simple way to demonstrate just how much you care about each one of them.
14. Gather formal feedback
It’s absolutely critical that you incorporate some kind of survey, exit interview, form, or track your NPS score as part of your enrollment process. You want to gather feedback, especially from the families who choose not to attend your school once enrolled, or families that decide to leave after a year or more. Ask them why.
Find out what is causing families to leave- and then dig into those areas if you see a trend. You likely can’t change everything families disliked, but you can find overall patterns for leaving and address those that are most important or influential.
Essentials to Remember When Considering Retention Efforts
- The best way to increase retention at your private school is to attract mission-aligned, best-fit families—the types of families that will want to stay at your school long term
- Your efforts will be most impactful if everyone at your school is onboard, from your CFO to your teachers
- To pick the best strategies for your school, discuss progress, and extend your reach- form a retention team or committee
- Remember that retention starts the moment a family enrolls at your school
Creating Raving Fans For Your School
Sometimes you will only have students at your school for a short time. Some families will leave your school. These students should receive as much attention and care as students who will stay longer. You want to always appreciate the value those students bring to your school. Plus, be aware that they will soon be some of the most important walking and talking billboards for your school. Raving fans can bring you new inquiries, applicants, and enrollments. When they leave, they’ll spread the word about your school to their friends, family, and their future classmates. Don’t underestimate the impact of their organic, word of mouth reviews for your school.
Implementing a few focused retention strategies at your private school can have a big impact. You’ll see the best results if everyone at your school is onboard, from your CFO to your business office, faculty, and teachers. Focusing on your retention efforts can be a fast track to help you meet your enrollment goals year after year, increase student lifetime value, and create a more tight-knit community at your school.
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