What Keeps You Up at Night?

This is the question we’ve been asking admission professionals over the past few months. 

The most common answer? RETENTION.  

More and more, independent schools are increasingly worried about retention. It’s a downright scary concept for admission professionals. You spend months guiding a family through your admission process, working to determine fit, getting to know the strengths and weaknesses of the student, and recognizing those unique contributions each new student will bring. It’s hard not to get attached.

Then, all of a sudden, in August, you are expected to “turn them over” to the rest of the school and sever your relationship. (*It is shocking how many teams we’ve talked with that feel like this is happening). It keeps you up at night because you care about your school, you believe in what you do, and you know just how strong and valuable those relationships are.

Perhaps what’s most problematic about this approach is the fact that while we are expected to be focused on “this year” in admissions, “this year” is solely predicated on “last year(s)” kids as the student body. You know… retention. It’s a hard place to be in the admissions office when you have to focus on finding next year’s kids, but you don’t know if last year’s kids are going to stick around– or need to be replaced by your office.

Maybe it’s time to stop being siloed by the brand of “Admissions” and start truly being recognized as “Enrollment Management.” Admission focuses on ‘this year’ and the class that will directly impact your current budget cycle. Enrollment Management is focused on the future and the impact future student bodies will have on your school and it’s budget.

In the most simple terms:

  • Admissions = Tactical
  • Enrollment Management = Strategic

So, as we think about retention, the ongoing responsibility can’t exclude you. Enrollment management is key and you must be involved in strategic planning and execution for success.  To the point, your school should have a very systematic way of looking at the foundation number of your enrollment every year. Perhaps, we can even go to a simple series of questions to keep it all in balance:

  • Who are we trying to keep?
  • Why are they important to our school’s make-up?
  • What will our process be to keep them engaged?
  • How will we enact our retention process?

As you are reviewing files in the next few weeks, start thinking of the students you are looking at as “graduates” and think about the role you will continue to play in getting them there (whatever that means to your school–8th graders are graduates too). And remember, the relationship with these families is not a 1-year transaction.

Retention starts now. Are you ready?

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