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– Hi everyone, thanks so much for joining us today. Just to do a quick sound check, sound check, can you please raise your hand click the Raise Hand button in Zoom if you can hear me okay. Perfect, thank you lots of hands. Awesome, thanks so much. Before we get started, I did want to take a moment to acknowledge that this webinar did end up taking place on the day of services for George Floyd. Our thoughts and our prayers are with Mr. Floyd’s family, friends and all those fighting for change and SchoolAdmin stands with you. Now let’s dive in. Hi, everyone, I’m Brandi Eppolito and I’m SchoolAdmin’s Vice President of Marketing. I’m so glad you’re here with us today. We have very very few slides for this webinar, ’cause we want to be sure it’s as interactive as possible. So before we dive into our panel, have just a couple of quick ones that I want to breeze through with you. First up is housekeeping. Few quick notes here we are recording the session, I know that’s always the first question we get. So yes, we’re recording it we’ll share the recording with you tomorrow. We also wanted to let you know that this event is made for you. We want it to serve you, we want to make sure it helps you do your job better and helps your school thrive. So with that in mind, we have plenty of plenty of time for questions. So please be sure to ask those along the way, we do want this to be interactive. We ask that if you look at the bottom of the Zoom window, you’ll see two buttons, Q&A and chat. If you don’t mind, please submit your questions via Q&A because that makes it a little bit easier for us to track the questions as we go along. And lastly, of course, the conversation doesn’t need to end here. Reach out to us if we can help and be sure to join our Slack community to connect with other enrollment management leaders like you. I also wanted to let you know about our next event which will take place on Friday, June 19th, at 130 Central. We’ll be talking through 20 activities to build relationships with your new and returning students over the summer, virtually of course, since this one will take place on a Friday afternoon, we invite you to bring along your favorite refreshment, turn on your camera and mic and participate in activities along with us. We’ll share the invite link for that event tomorrow in the follow up email. I also would love to share a quick overview of SchoolAdmin for those of you that might be joining us for the first time. My daughter. Perfect timing for UTS I couldn’t plan it better. For more than 10 years now, we’ve been focused on helping private and independent schools like you thrive. Our enrollment management platform makes it easier to build those meaningful relationships with the families you serve. Even if you can’t be on campus, which you know it’s all been pretty interesting lately. We help you work faster with tools like automated communication plans and checklists, which means you can spend less time doing those mundane tasks, and more time building relationships. We also give you access to the data you need to make smart decisions and pivot quickly, which again, we’re all pretty familiar with these days. And of course, tech is just a really small piece of that puzzle. What we think sets us apart are the people that work here. Our team is really, really amazing and in fact, our team just won Customer Service Department of the Year for the Silver Stevie Award. And our product team is always listening to see how we can make the product better and give you more options to customize it for your school and make your job easier. I started with SchoolAdmin almost a year ago, and in my past life, I worked in recruitment marketing and admissions for the University of Texas at Austin with them. I loved building relationships and meeting people of all backgrounds from all over the world. I loved working with our students to create our first ever ambassador program that was so much fun. I even loved our admissions events even though by the sixth info session of the year it truly felt like Groundhog Day and I couldn’t remember which one was which. But what I didn’t love was the pace of change. Working for a public university sometimes it can feel like this, or moving in slow motion, especially when it comes to adopting new tech and new processes. There were so many stakeholders to get buy in from, so many hoops to jump through, so much red tape, truly is kind of painful to see how outdated some of the aspects of our enrollment process were even though we are such a forward thinking University. I’m sure I’m not alone here. Can any of y’all relate to this? And last week I came across this quote from the HBR and I thought it really summarized how I was feeling back at UT. Here’s what it says. “Evolution in the education ecosystem happens through “punctuated equilibrium,” which fun fact is also apparently the name of a pizza flavor, “long periods of relatively slow change, “interspersed with occasional moments of rapid adaptation, “the current pandemic is a punctuation moment.” So I was working at UT during that period of slow change. So many of our schools have been in that state for so long. But suddenly, here we are, here’s that punctuation moment. COVID came in like a wrecking ball. Hey, Miley fans, ready or not it’s here. Are there are their Miley fans? I don’t know. Anyways, and no matter how antsy you were for your school to embrace change, adapting it at such a rapid pace and during at such a rapidly changing time and involving situation it’s really hard, It’s really, really stressful again, preaching the choir, I know. But as one of our panelists so aptly said it during our prep call last week, never waste a crisis. So today, we have three enrollment leaders joining us for our panel. They’ll be sharing their insights and ideas for meeting their enrollment goals, despite all of madness going on around us. And with that, I’m so pleased to hand it over to SchoolAdmmin’s beloved founder and CEO Nate Little. Nate, take it away.
– All right, thank you Brandi. And I’m glad you were able to get a dog bark or two in there. I hope keep it real for everybody during this time. As Brandi mentioned I’m Nate Little, the co-founder and CEO of SchoolAdmin. And when we started SchoolAdmin more than 10 years ago, my personal goal was to bring a passion for building really great software products together with passion for education. And now more than a decade later, and working you know, with more than 500 private and independent schools and having thousands of conversations, this idea of punctuated equilibrium really rings true to me. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so much rapid changes I have over the last few months. And it’s really really interesting for me personally, and hopefully for all of you to see how different schools are thinking about this. So I can’t wait to hear what our panelists have to say about that. So, with that in mind, I’d love a quick intro from each of you, including who you are, maybe a one to two sentence elevator pitch about your school and what your role entail. So Geordie why don’t we start with you?
– Good afternoon everyone, my name is Geordie Mitchell. I’ve been in the enrollment space for almost 30 years. And I’m actually in transition, I’m currently the Director of enrollment management at Buckingham Brown and Nickel School in Cambridge, but about a month from now, I will have a similar role and title at Laboire Country Day School in California. And I have to say during these interesting times, it’s been useful to have a foot in two schools and on two coasts, to hear what people are doing to cope and to compensate in this new abnormal, as I’ve heard it called.
– Hi, I’m Jill Hutchins. I work at Dublin School in Dublin, New Hampshire. I too have been in enrollment for about 30 years in school enrollment for about 15 and in college enrollment for about 15 prior to that. So Dublin school, we have 165 students. We are primarily boarding ninth through 12th traditional academics with APs and of the honor courses, culture of kindness and intellectual engagement. Culture is big at Dublin School. Were we supposed to answer the next, how COVID? I’m a little.
– Yeah, so what we’ll do is we’ll start with the intros and then I’ll just start throwing out questions and you guys can give opinions.
– Well, all right, that’s it for now then.
– As you would like. Yeah, so John, although it looks like he’s in the same place you got. John, if you could introduce yourself.
– Hi folks, it’s really nice to be with you today. And I’m especially excited to be with these colleagues who are actually colleagues and old friends too. My name is John Barrengos, I’m just finishing my seventh year running the Admission and Financial Aid side up at the Putney School. I’ve also been in schools for about 30 years. I’ve had every role except athletic director, and I’m very much a school person. I love what we try to do for families and the puzzle that is keeping our schools rolling generally in the same direction. I suppose for an elevator pitch for Putney, I’d focus on what distinguishes us from most schools, which is how we are quite a progressive school. We really buy into the idea that students developing autonomy and voice and substantive responsibility, not decorative at all, is powerful. So kids at our school help us to, if not run the place, operate large swaths of it. They run our dairy farm, or they operate most of it. They help us in the dining hall, they’re on our board. It’s a very unusual and special place and I’m delighted to be here and to be here with you.
– Alright, so what we’ll do is we’ll jump into questions. And as we go through this, we did ask for submissions ahead of time. So we’ll pepper in some of those questions and then also, leave time at the end for any additional questions that come in through Q&A that we have time for. So please ask if anything comes to mind throughout this conversation. So let’s start with the most broad and open-ended conversation. And the open ended question, and that is how has COVID impacted your school thus far? And what have you and your departments done differently as a result? And y’all, anybody feel free to jump in who wants to speak to that.
– Who wants to start?
– We both unmuted at the same time, so I’ll jump in. Everything changed and we had to really do everything differently. I think one of the things about this profession that I love is that’s not unusual. There are are oftentimes where you have to pivot. And I think all of us who’ve been doing it a long time, strangely enjoy that pivot. This might have been a bigger pivot than than usual. But going online, being creative, being engaged, realizing that, you know, this happened for all of us in that moment for most of us in that moment where we were closing a deal, and all of a sudden we didn’t have our student body or our campuses to help us do that. Not to mention the fact that the anxiety of this decision is big anyways, it just got bigger and felt more weighty. You know I think some of the things that I learned in this process was, you have to still just be who you are, and put yourself out there and talk about and show in a different way who you are. Video is huge for us, technology really has helped and continues to.
– I would echo what Jill was saying. One of the ways in which I understand our schools, as an industry and where our audience, the folks who are here today are all colleagues in the admission space, I believe. I understand our industry is in a pyramid, and I really do think that the admissions work that we do if we are one of the 20 most recognized schools is different and quite a bit different than the work that most of us normal folks do at the schools that wouldn’t fit into that top 20. So instead of the gate keeping function, I think, if our schools are doing our admission work successfully in any year, we have to be able to identify what it is about our school’s experience and how we translate that into the admission experience, that makes us different from and distinctive from the peers that we share a lot with. But there’s something about us that is different, I think, and this is, I couldn’t agree with Jill more. The COVID pandemic, it’s got a lot of layers to it. But at the end of the day, what it forced us to do is say, okay, what is it about us that makes the difference? What is the experience that the student has that they’re gonna be able to talk about on a virtual call? Because it’s so familiar to them because that’s what it is to be at Putney or Dublin, or BB&N That essential part of our identity still is the thing that we have to get across and so we’re using different forms to do it, but if we don’t hold tight to that we don’t have a chance.
– You know, I love this idea of really understanding what it is that is the identity of your school. What is that core story, right? What is the thing that, that really people really need to understand about you and if that has not changed. The only thing that’s changed really is how you get, that message out there, how you get the story out there. So that’s great and we’re gonna to come back to that and dig into that a little bit later further in the conversation. But Geordie why don’t you share kind of how things, how you all have changed in all of these.
– Right, so one of the ways I’m a little bit different from my colleagues is I’m representing a school that is pre-kindergarten through 12th grade. So we are, we have multiple audiences. And really what changed, two things changed in my mind. One was the method of communicating went from a very personal, face-to-face, kind of feel the school, feel the atmosphere to again the word that probably none of us will ever wanna use again is pivot once we get through here, right to pivoting online at the drop of the hat I’m gonna actually ban that I think in my new office. But then the other piece of it was the value proposition. Because we’re not exactly sure what we’re promising for the fall right now and I’m guessing that most people on the webinar today have had many conversations from families to before they sign your enrollment contract and send the deposit want to know what that’s going to look like. And we actually can’t tell them because, as a good friend of mine used to say the locus of control is external, the CDC, the local, the state governments, the local governments are going to tell us what our education is going to look like in the fall and they don’t know yet. So in many ways what I’m experiencing and I hope the rest of you are too, is that our value proposition’s actually gone up. I’m guessing that most of our schools made the transition to distance learning much more quickly and effectively than our primary competition which is really the public school market. And so we have actually, while we were concerned about summer melt, we were concerned that the value proposition is gonna shift and families are gonna say well, I’m not gonna pay that much money because we’re not gonna get the full experience. In reality, it’s almost been a little bit the opposite, where families have been so unhappy with their child’s distance learning experience, and they’re so concerned about the gap that they’re seeing widening as their children aren’t getting a good education. Then our value propositions as independent schools, I think are actually going up. And so that was what I’ve been thinking a lot about is the opportunity we have as independent schools to talk about how we can be nimble, how we can react much more quickly to whatever’s going on out there and I think that’s really gonna to work in our favor.
– Yeah, I think this idea of there being a, you know, ’cause I know initially when we first got into this, the conversations I heard, were mainly around fears of you know, whether it’s recession or having to do distance learning and there was a lot of fear and uncertainty around that. And now I’m starting to see the shift where independent private schools are beginning to hear from their communities that there is something unique and valuable that is especially important to families right now with everything that’s going on. So let’s jump into the idea of your story and your value proposition and we’ll come back to sort of technology and digital transformation later. You know, it’s, to the point that John made earlier that the core is what it was before, right. The core is what it is, and it is still the core, yet the value proposition may have changed, the environment has changed. And maybe telling your story, it might even be trickier in a virtual world with so much uncertainty and societal change. Has your school changed how it’s positioning itself? Given all of that.
– I don’t think we’ve changed our positioning, but it has certainly allowed us to put even more emphasis on how independent schools are communities that care about one another. The stories that I’ve heard from all of our schools about how we’ve reached out in every way to find out who in our community is suffering from food insecurity? Who doesn’t have the technology they need? Now again independent schools are such close-knit caring communities that this, tragedy that we’re in the midst of has allowed that to come actually more into focus, and I believe more important than ever, to our families who realize that we care a lot more about their tuition, we care a lot more about just educating a child, this is a holistic approach to education. And that’s really, you know, that’s showing what great institutions we have and why we’re able to do what we do.
– Yeah and John and Jill, from your perspective, has your positioning changed?
– I would echo what Geordie said. I don’t feel like our value proposition or positioning of that has actually changed. And Geordie said before, you know, he’s working with a day school that’s got every grade, and we’re just dealing with four of them. So I think there’s a way in which when we’re having a conversation with a family, the culture, the way people treat one another, the nature of the institution as a citizen in the community, that’s part of what they’re looking at. But I think probably, it’s more the case that they’re looking at the educational design even if they don’t use that language. You know, what’s the kind of learning that my son or my daughter responds to? What does a classroom look like when things are going well for them? I actually think generally when any of us as people or as communities or as schools, when we encounter challenges, when the anxiety level elevates, as Jill was saying before, because of this pandemic for example. What’s normal to happen in the human system is that there’s regression, people pull in and then go to their core needs and their core fears and their core hopes and that means that the students and the families that are currently not at one of our schools but we’re looking at them and have been in our application pool, they know what they’re frustrated by, they know what’s really not working. And that gives us a real leg up, I don’t think it changes the value proposition, but it gives us a really clear road for them to examine, when they’re taking a look at what a classroom looks like, say at Putney, or at Dublin. What the culture is, whether they can ski, what matters to them is clear to them, they’re more informed customer that’s looking and again, I think that the way in which we put them in touch with our teachers and our students, and the stories that we curate and that we share in our virtual open houses but also that we encourage them to engage in actual conversation with on or two students, or one or two teachers, those stories coming back from our current school members, the students and the teachers are also from a regressed place they’re in Iowa right now having a Putney experience. And the fact that we can have our teachers hold on to what is Putney in a classroom, and if that kid who’s an Iowa or Colorado or wherever, when they’re talking about what it was like to be in history that year, or in art that year, or how they did a group project that year, or an independent study, even though they were doing it remotely they’re talking about what in my case, what Putney is all about. And so the truth I think elevates a little bit higher, when we’re regressed, when we’re challenged and I think that’s a good thing for schools that have an identity and I think it’s an immense challenge for schools that are function more like substitute commodities, butter, margarine. Those schools that are super conventional and just trying to be the next run up on the ladder of brands hierarchy actually think they’re at risk unless they find a way to lean into one part of themselves. How do you like that for a succinct answer Nate? Sorry, I went on for so long.
– Thank you, thank you. And I think this idea of being very clear about your differentiation, right. What makes you unique and responding to what are some really strong human needs right now, right, as people are looking for that sense of security is really important. Jill, how would you respond to that?
– I think some of the collateral beauty that we found in this moment was all of a sudden we’re a day school. So we have to be connecting, you know, we’re primarily boarding and now our students are at home, and the communication with parents and the ability to like we have this opportunity to really be with them too, and we pounced on it in a really great way. We had morning meetings where parents were invited, we really got the whole family kind of involved in Dublin and when we, and I’m sure we’ll talk about this a little bit. But when we did some of our refund, we said you can also give this to annual fund and we had a huge percentage of families do that. And I think a lot of it’s because we engaged the whole family. And so I think that’s something we will continue to do more communication, have our families be more involved, I think it’s something that boarding schools get afraid of, because you know, we got it, you stay, you know, leave your kid and let us do our educating. And I think that’s important for independence and for our students and at the same time, it’s always beneficial to have the parents involved for long term relationship for siblings for all those things. So I think that was a benefit that we didn’t see coming that ended up being pretty pretty remarkable.
– Now, one of the questions that came in from the initial form that we sent out when we sent these webinar invites was how have you given parents a sense of security when trying to get them to enroll during this time? And I think you all have hit on a number of answers to that question. You know, engaging the current parent community but what could you add to that? You know, what advice could you give to somebody who’s wondering, you know, whether it’s a boarding school, and they may be sending their child off to school or maybe a hybrid environment or a day school. How would you respond to that?
– I think transparency is really key right now. And we’re all in this area of unknowns. I think somebody said it earlier, like, the governor in our state is gonna tell us in a lot of ways, and then we’re gonna react to that. So I think with families and with parents, you know, be nimble, sorry, there’s that word again, be open to their anxiety and share it with them. You know I think that they wanna know that you’re being real, and I think that goes a long way. And also be positive, like we’re, going forward thinking it’s gonna happen, we obviously will have plan B if we need it and we’re working on that too but plan A is what we’re talking about. And be flexible with your refund oh not with your refunds, with your deposit if you need to be, you know, like, they wanna know that we’re in it together. I think that’s important.
– Love it, the idea.
– I think.
– Oh go ahead.
– I’m sorry, I was just gonna say what Jill was talking about with the transparency and the empathy I think we’re talking about how you develop trust in a relationship.
– And before I came to Putney I was heading a K to eight school in Connecticut and certainly the way in which parents have to choose to trust a school is different at a boarding school than a day school. Because at a day school they can be sure they’re getting the concept proved everyday and heaven knows they can get in there and intervene if they feel like anything is at risk. I think the transparency of offering clear information, including when we don’t know what the answer is, and, speaking just for Putney and I imagine you guys do it as well. We give prospective parents real easy access to current parents. And our current parents re-enrolled more quickly this year than they had in the past because guess what proved how valuable Putney was during the pandemic? Well, it was the fact that the kids were at home. Not only did they get acquainted with their kids in a different way, I’ll just leave it at that, but more importantly, their kids were more clear about what they needed and missed in their schooling. So having that parent be able to talk to a prospective parent is all to the good and it’s about them saying these are adults that we trust with our kids, our most valuable possession, and you can too. I think that’s a huge piece of it.
– Yeah, we have four kids at home right now, so I am feeling that value proposition very visible.
– Nate we can help you with that, I just give my thought afterward.
– Thank you, thank you. So a question came in through our Q&A box that I think is very relevant to this idea of messaging and outreach. Which is do the three of you have a plan to target or pursue those families that have children in public schools? And Geordie we’ll start with you. Has that been a topic of conversation in either of the schools you’re transitioning between?
– We’ve been doing that all along I think through just really good parent ambassador programs, training them to be on message, talking authentically about the experience. And because that group already exists and is already so passionate about the school, they’ve actually been doing that for us organically, and we are getting calls on a regular basis so. Because the foundational work was already done we have not had to formally initiate outreach to that group.
– And John.
– Just to add on, I think, in boarding schools situations where you don’t have as cogent a geography that you’re working with Geordie’s got the greater Boston area, and heaven knows a wonderful set of public school districts with high taxes and wealthy folks, at least in some cases. For boarding schools, and for Putney for example, we could choose to say, mmh the public schools in Newton are a good profile, we could get strong kids, they can afford us, we don’t know if they’ll buy what we’ve got to offer but we could target it. We actually don’t intentionally target and that may be an error on our part, because there really are, you could slice them right across the country there really are 25 districts or so that would be very very appealing. It turns out though, in our case without aiming at it, but half of our kids who come up to the boarding program are coming when they’re looking from a public school. It’s not a result of us chasing them, it is a reality though, and I love it. And then word of mouth hopefully perpetuates that.
– I would say, educational consultants they help in that arena. Another way to market as a boarding school is through public radio, that’s something that we do on occasion and we actually may engage in that this summer to target a certain area, like outside of Boston is typical. But we don’t, and I will say that we’ve seen a bump in day students from public school recently. Just in the last couple weeks, we’ve gotten some calls, because the families are more sure that we may open than the large public school.
– That makes sense. And I think that is a unique message that I personally have heard just in my local community here in Austin So this is another question that came in from our audience and it relates to actually, how do you get the message out there? Even with things starting to slowly open, I am still predicting a heavily virtual admission season. What are your plans for engaging new families virtually throughout your main recruitment season? How do we move them through the funnel efficiently if we’re not allowing them on-campus?
– If you don’t mind I’ll jump in to this early, but I guess the good news was that most of us have already had to move online through a yore process. So we’ve learned each time we did a virtual event, what worked, what didn’t work, and from the standpoint of a pre K through 12 school on three different campuses, what I realized was that it was actually much easier for me to make information available around every grade and all trajectories virtually than it was in person. So when we did a yield event, and we talked about the Upper School Academic program, we invited our lower school parents, we wouldn’t have invited them if that was an in-person event. So the virtual aspect of this, and remember, we’ve got families looking at multiple schools they have young children at home, getting babysitters to come out and see us, in many ways, I think we’re going to all take the best of having to move virtually and we’ll continue to incorporate that into our practice. And I’m gonna continue to do evening virtual panels, where a family can have their children in the next room or in bed and learn more about my school pre K through 12 in a much more convenient way and oh, by the way, as we all know, we can even record those and make them available online. So in some ways, we are learning lessons that I think will pay off really well for us and be actually more convenient for many of our families. So we’re gonna just keep doing virtual, keep being iterative, asking for feedback, learning from our mistakes and at the end of the day, I think all of us will have new tools in this process that we didn’t really even think to use before.
– I think one thing that we’ve learned is or that I’ve learned as a leader of this office is you have to get excited about the new opportunities. And we just had a meeting this morning about the fall because I think the reality is, even if we have students on-campus, we’re probably not gonna be welcoming visitors. Because the primary situation will be to keep the students and the adults safe on-campus. So how do we do that in a Dublin way? Like is it students you know, do we get fancy equipment and have students do great tours? Like those kinds of things, I think, are what you have to get excited about. Because like Geordie said, and it’s so true, I’ve learned so much, and found opportunities that I didn’t even think about, that we won’t ever let go of. The parent conversations on Zoom have been amazing and the student situations as well. But I think you have to get behind your ideas and go forward with excitement. If you’re leading an enrollment team, you have to get them excited about it too. I told everyone on my team today, they’re not allowed to say, “But we used to be able to,” because I just, it sets you up for not showing your enthusiasm about your school.
– I would add something that I’m noticing that we haven’t had to do yet and that I think is gonna be really really important next year. So I guess I’m raising a flag of something I hope we learn about, but I’m in a place where I’m wondering what the answer will be and that is how we’re going to bring new kids and families in, in the fall and create the culture that in our school the kids are huge drivers of. And how we bring in that new freshman or sophomore or junior, no matter how confident they are about some areas, they’re scared about joining a community and I’m sure they will be if it’s virtual. I suppose if we start and get a good month or two under our belt, there’s a lot of culture establishment that will be able to happen. But when you think of what we all were going through this spring, our teachers and our administrators were working with kids and families that were already inculcated into the school. There was already a pre-existing relationship and that was the foundation on which a lot of this stuff was able to build. And I trust that we will experiment as we do, to find an answer and we’ll figure out what works and what doesn’t and we’ll go with what works. But when I think about the fall, and this I think pertains to how will we use those experiences in the admission process as well. I think about the vulnerability of our newest students, I always do, and I want to take care of them very very carefully and have a good embrace for them until they get their feet underneath them. And I do wonder if we’re let’s pretend we’re stuck remotely for much of the fall, I do wonder how we will do that virtually and I find that a really compelling question.
– Yeah, I think there’s a lot, I’m hearing a lot of really great ideas and many of them center around the students and the parents, the families and engaging them in the process both from a, you know, speaking to their experience with the school but then also to your point, John of, you know, inculcating them into what it means to go to your school when everybody’s remote. So we had several questions come in related to this and related to either student visits or engaging families. So I’ll just share all of the different questions and put it out there and you guys can respond to whichever ones you have specific experience about. But one person this is more on the student side, on how are you going to implement specifically for shadow days if your classes are being conducted remotely? And then there are a series of questions around how do you engage with current parents? You know, are they pre-selected ambassadors? At what point do you in the process do you engage them, at inquiry, application, pending enrollments? Do you get their permission ahead of time? How do you actually connect to people are you sending them emails? So anything you guys can speak to around the mechanics of either you know, shadow days and connecting with current students or how you actually facilitate these parent to parent communications?
– We actually have a template in SchoolAdmin, little plug there. With parents that have already said, we would be happy to be an ambassador. Also people that were happy, they want to be ambassadors, I have to say that. And what we do is we have like, what their child is interested in. So programs that they might know, and then we just send to the prospective parents and say, call any of these people, reach out. And it’s worked really well and our parents love it. I think it helps with retention as well, ’cause it makes them feel like they’re part of it. So that’s worked for us on that level. And I will say we do it earlier now than we used to. We used to wait until we were kind of at the end of the phase and now we’re just saying here it is, talk to people.
– Yeah, I wonder if there’s an element of Jill to what you were just saying. If there’s an element, if a parent is speaking to prospective parents as an ambassador, right? They’re telling the story, and it’s reminding them of that story. And they are immersing themselves and not only acting as your ambassador, but also just reminding themselves of why they love your school so much, right, so I think that’s a really cool idea. John, you’re about to say?
– Actually forgot what I was about to say, sorry Nate.
– I think there needs to be a great amount of intentionality around this. You don’t want it to be random. If anybody’s ever worked in the development world, right? You don’t ask somebody who’s given $50 to go ask somebody for 5000, you’re always looking for those connections, are they from the same feeder school that their children play on the same club team? Or do they live in the same neighborhood or work for the same employer? So you really do want to, I think you want to cherry pick your parents, you want to train them. And one of the things that I realized when with parent ambassador programs that no I did it for outreach, but what I realized was the information we got back from them because we now had this wonderful relationship with these group of parents who will come back and say, “You know your math program out “in the world out there not so good.” What do you, you probably want to do something about that. So, an ambassador program is actually a two-way information conduit, once you’ve established that trust in that relationship that really benefits your office and your school in ways that I didn’t appreciate when I was thinking of it simply as a marketing technique.
– Nate, I remembered And Geordie you know, the school he’s been working in how many students do you guys have? You’re muted.
– Yep, yep sorry the button. A little bit over 1000.
– So the ambassador program, you know, if you’re in Geordie’s shoes, part of what you’ve got to do with an ambassador program is make sure you have the right parents involved. You know, when you think of 5% of the families that might be a little vocal and upset about any particular thing which is a normal proportion in that school that’s a lot of people In Jill’s school or in my school with a couple hundred folks max, it’s a lot smaller, and we don’t have as elaborated an ambassador program we do it more case by case but we know the families well. The thing that Jill said earlier that made me think of underscoring a point was that she said she used to do it later toward the yield and I’m guessing and now started to do it earlier. One of the things that we’re able to do now, as admissions folks working with families is we’ve got this virtual programming going on, which allows us to use this video today for this kid, but this video at a different point for the other kid. That ability to use the different tools that work for this particular instance, is a metaphor for I think how we can work with families too. I was mentioning to somebody that I was typing back, Megan, I was typing an answer back about when do you introduce this stuff? I have a conversation with a parent in the beginning of the process, about the process. I let them know here are the five roads we’re gonna be going down. Here’s some for you, here’s some for your child. When do you think it would be most useful for you to hear about X, Y, or Z, and they’re actually influencing the sequencing of some of these things, including contact with parents. So I think they get to be more a part of it and it probably meshes with their expectation about having a lot of agency in a process these days and this generation.
– Yeah, I love that idea of inviting the family in to help shape what their experience is right. And while at the same time helping, you know, set the expectation and clarify what they’re gonna see throughout this process, I think that’s really neat. Now we’ve spoken a lot about parents, what about students? I mean, as you’re looking forward, assuming things are remote, at least for a portion of the fall, what are you gonna do about shadow days? Or is it TBD at this point?
– We’re still gonna do them. I mean, they’re not gonna feel like the shadow days of yore. And it maybe that a student is connecting with and shadowing the experience of a couple students over the course of a few days. But once everyone got the hang of the sense of boundaries and privacy that doing don’t happen with a virtual, we found that having kids sit in on classes worked well in the virtual arena. There’s no need for them to be there for 45 minutes the way we used to do it. But we will still have kids. We will increase the contact as much as everyone will tolerate because that gives them the clear sense of what’s gonna be happening.
– And, John to your point, one of the challenges that we have is when we have children come visit, right, we’re doing our best to match them with a student with whom we think they’re gonna get along or a student who’s taking classes that the prospective student is really interested in. Well, now virtually, right we can make sure they’re in the science and the world language and the English sections that they’re most interested in, whereas when we assign them to a guide, that’s very difficult or impossible. So once again, the flip side of this is it gives us tremendous flexibility and more of an opportunity in some ways to tailor the experience than we had in the past.
– I think one thing that we’re gonna do and started to do in the spring is fine, get more information, have more conversations. Like what Geordie just said, you have, it’s not one shot. It’s not okay, there’s their visit, can they wear on campus? We nailed it or we blew it. You know, it’s, oh, you didn’t like that class or even connect with that student online let me, how about, you know, you should talk to Nora, like just being able to be, it’s not over, it’s not one and done, which is pretty exciting. I think there’s a lot of opportunity there. But I think my big takeaway and thought is, I need a lot more information. And I need to have Zoom conversations with the student that aren’t the interview prior so that I can really collect and gather and understand them, and then really know who to connect them with.
– Now, oh go ahead
– One more thing I want to remind us of is, you know, the generation of students that we’re dealing With, they’re digital natives. They were already living in this world long before we as adults were making this transition. And the whole experience from both the learners and their parents of this last spring term has increased everybody’s comfort level and facility with the technology that we’re all using. So in some ways this is going to be easier than it was when on a dime we had to completely change the way we do things. I do think that it’s going to be easier because both sides now have experience with this and realize it in this new abnormal, okay, man I might not be able to walk through the classrooms at Putney. Not in person, but virtually I can and I’ve been learning that way now for the last several months. So I can pick something up from this experience.
– I think the other thing is that we’re all in the same boat. You know, we’re all I know I’m not supposed to say that but it’s true. Like we’re all dealing with a similar situation. So when I think about full travel, quote, and quote, and being able to get there and recruit, I’m gonna be looking to Putney and to other schools and saying “Okay, how do we get ourselves “out there virtually?” Like, what, ’cause I do think that that is, that’s the next step. We’re not gonna have travel seasons like we’ve had, we’re not gonna be able to visit all these schools and have people visiting us. So we have to get creative. We have to think about marketing differently. There’s a lot to do, but I think it’s really important to do it with other schools.
– And Jill it’s funny, I mean. Jill and I are gonna be on the phone Friday talking about configuring a virtual school fair I want to make a pitch since we’re talking to colleagues in admissions. If you guys ever perhaps occasionally found a school fair or a high school fair or a school fair that you had to attend behind the table maybe a little frustrating, maybe you weren’t crazy about which table you were in, or whether it had visibility or traffic or who you were sitting next to. A virtual fair lets you actually design your favorite fair with your favorite schools that position you the best. And you can go out and push that out. I mean schools are starting to get the hang of this. And if we’re remote next year, that’s what people are gonna be doing all over the place and it should be.
– It’s cost effective as well.
– You know what’s really interesting about this that hadn’t really sunk in for me until just now is that it’s almost like we’ve just holistically as parents, as administrators, we’ve been trained in the technology that our kids are comfortable with, right. That the next generation is very comfortable with, and societally like we’ve all come around to this we’ve gone through this crash course and how to do things virtually and how to be comfortable with video et cetera. And now it’s creating a lot of opportunities to do things better in a more personalized way, you know, to create a better experience for prospective families ’cause you can pair them with the people that are gonna speak to what they want. You can pair the students with the classes they’re interested in. You can do more frequent, higher number of interactions, maybe over the course of weeks in shorter time increments, right. So have more smaller interactions that keep things fresh and alive throughout the admission season. And to do it very cost effectively at scale with a community that I would guess is more engaged right now in wanting to help and see what can we do to contribute to this than maybe ever before. So I see a lot of opportunity there. Now what I want to do is take this idea of engagement that I just spoke about with the community and turn it inward in the school. I just read an article this week from Inside Higher Ed and it predicted a dramatic decline in fundraising from the pandemic. Now, it was speaking to Higher Ed fundraising but if that does turn out to be true in K through 12, it means revenue from enrollment is more important now than it ever was before. And it was, as we all know, it was already extremely important. So, you know, that’s just one example. But overall, the case is stronger now than it ever was before. But do you feel that when it comes to admission and enrollment, that the school as a whole is more open to embracing change? And in doing things differently now than before?
– I feel like there’s been waves of that I really like at first there was like, “Yeah, okay,” Now it’s like, “Oh, I just want normal.” So, you know, I think it’s like our heads of school are more excited to talk about how important enrollment is and I think that is true. I do think it’s smaller schools where we might not have the biggest endowments. And the dependency enrollment has always been so key in our success that I don’t think that’s shifted. Like I don’t worry about that as much in terms of thinking of fundraising ’cause it doesn’t impact our bottom line as much. But I do think that there is momentum. I know John and I were talking about this before, on another call, but we’re not hesitating to ask faculty for help. That they have time, they have energy, and they’re willing, and that’s pretty great.
– And what would you all say to the schools that or the admissions teams that may struggle to get that buy in that you spoke about or get the budget, whatever it is that they need to be able to go after this?
– I want to be careful ’cause I imagine that most of the people on here are admissions folks, and wouldn’t be too offended by assertive clarity, but there may be some who find this problematic. They are faculty, are colleagues who are teachers who are the core of the school are faced with a situation where they really don’t have, this isn’t discretionary. The truth when you think about the way our industry is gonna go over the next two or three years is how we do our jobs, all of our jobs. Admissions, institutional, cost management, the market, and our teaching in the classrooms. How we do it over the next six months is going to influence the viability of schools for the subsequent three years. There’s no two ways about it. So, I think our colleagues in admissions, if they’re feeling skittish about talking to their head or their faculty or talking to their head about talking to their faculty, which is probably where it should come, find your courage and dive into it. Because it’s only in service of school and frankly the teacher’s stability of employment. If we get this right through the next six months, there’s a good chance we’ll hold on to our enrollment and our market positions, there are gonna be schools that go out of business. And that’s actually going to be for the industry a positive because it’s gonna make a better relationship between the supply and demand of schools and of families. The schools where the teachers are unwilling to be responsive to this and don’t engage as they need to with the market they’re gonna have real problems and I think heads of school will be able to grasp that and should be the ones who are underscoring that, frankly, at meetings. You know, my head did it at a meeting today this morning. Like this is the time to get that message out to faculty that this summer is gonna different just as the spring was, we need you to be responsive to the admissions office requests, because it’s essential.
– My tact has always been with faculty that the more involved they are the better kids we get. And it makes a difference in their classrooms. So essentially they have better jobs because they’re teaching kids that want to be taught. And so that tact has always been, and I’ve had a lot of success with that at Dublin. And I have incredible, I have faculty who are really involved and want to be involved. And I make sure to tell them, they were the reason. Because even though we do all the back work, and we’re really the reason. Now if you tell them that it makes them feel good, and they get excited. Like we have parties for faculty all the time to write, to do card-a-thons and to get them involved in our process. And right now I’m so grateful that we’ve always done that, because it’s not a new thing to them.
– For those of you who are missing baseball, the analogy I use is that the admission staff is the starting pitcher. The faculty are the closers, right? They’ve got to come in at the late-innings, and they’ve got to secure the win. Because by the late-innings, yes we’re tired but that’s not the point. You know, at the late-innings, they know us, we’ve already done our part. Now the students and their parents want to be interacting directly with those people who will be educating the child and that family. So we are only as good as the school represent, right? That’s realistic as I can get. And we have to have our teachers as a part of our team or we will not be able to be successful. And to John’s point, I’ve worked with a lot of schools a little bit on the side and the ones that are successful are the heads who get it and understand how to communicate that in a way that’s not a threat. And the schools that struggle are the ones where the heads frankly don’t understand that and think that the job of identifying prospects all the way to getting the contract is only the admissions teams, and those are the schools that will struggle.
– So if you’re, let’s say I’m the admission director at one of those schools, and I’m really struggling to you know either I’m facing a level of decline that they may end up, you know, in a bad situation for the school or I’m struggling with getting the head of school engaged around this. You know, how can I approach that conversation? You know, what advice would you give me?
– Well that’s a really tough one because if they don’t get it, they don’t get it. I have actually found that the CFOs and the business managers get it more quickly than the heads of schools who often came up as educators, not business people. And when you start talking about and reminding people of net tuition revenue and x percentage of the budget comes from tuition. If you can’t get your head’s attention, see if you can get your CFO’s attention and the finance committee’s attention and try and go that way. And if you can’t get anybody’s attention, I’m gonna be really honest, it might be time to brush up your resume.
– Yeah, Geordie is right on target. And I mean, when you say, you know, those schools that might be in decline, if those finance committees aren’t already anxious about this, you know, look for the exit, get the resume going because there’s something wrong with a school that’s not focused on this right now.
– Yeah and I imagined that that would be a welcome conversation. If I’m a CFO, and I’m looking at the numbers and I’m looking at the trends and where things are going. You know, and I’m just speaking personally. My own personal experience, I would welcome somebody to be a partner and how do we solve this? You know, how do we solve this, I would love to get more people on my side in helping address the financial side of things.
– Yeah, I was gonna say the same thing. Don’t stand alone. This isn’t your fault. You know it’s your organization, it’s your school. So I think gathering people and build your team. And if you don’t, if there isn’t a team to build, I think the resume direction is the right direction.
– Okay, all right. Well Brandi, I think we’ve hit the end of our time. Can you take it from here?
– [Brandi] Yes, thank you all so much, that was amazing. I know I learned a ton and I’m sure everyone here did too. Thank you all so much for being with us today. We do have a quick poll data driven organization, we always want to do better. So I’ll launch it quickly. We’d love to know what you thought of today’s event. Again, we do these to serve you. So please let us know what you thought so we can do more of it, that was great. Thank you to our amazing panelists. Again, we learned so much and really appreciate and value your time. We will send out the recording tomorrow along with the invite for the next webinar. So, thank you everyone so much for joining us. We were so happy to.
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