The value proposition
It’s been over two decades since I became an advocate for the then-emerging (and now dominant) marketing work of independent schools: communicating value. What makes your school worth what it costs when you consider a family’s ”career” at your school, many of whom have multiple children?
To get a better handle on how schools can discover and communicate value, we created a model to help them make their case.
Essentially, educational value tracks across four dimensions: Elements of value
The following links break down the above 4 elements of value in more detail, and relate how you can apply them to your own professional skill set.
- Evidence of transformational teaching and learning
- Evidence of customer-centricity and community
- Evidence of cost-consciousness and stewardship
Challenges for Montessori Schools
Over the years, some of our more challenging clients for proving value have been Montessori Toddler-8th or Toddler-9th independent schools. The challenge: Many parents flock to Montessori for Primary School. Some may even make it as far as halfway through the Elementary program.
But as their child matures, parents often find themselves thinking that the risk of staying with the Montessori approach all the way through Middle School may place their students in jeopardy. Eventually, so the thinking goes, they will face more competitive academic and social environments. Better to make the change sooner rather than later.
Another Montessori challenge can be self-inflicted. Sometimes Montessori faculty spend more time trying to enthrall prospective families with the “Montessori Method” -- HOW they do what they do -- rather than WHY they do it and the outcomes the student can achieve as a result. This is the essential “return on investment” parents are anxious to see. They don’t necessarily care about how you get them there, they just want proof that the outcome will be worth it, considering all the other choices they have.
It’s clearly up to the school to make the “outcome case” for them. At these prices, parents have every right to expect the school to justify the cost. But it’s best to let your own “customers” – teachers, parents, and alumni – make the case. Their testimony is exponentially more credible and compelling than the school's administrators doing the bragging.
An Effective Approach to Getting to the Value of a Toddler - 9th Grade Montessori School
Greensboro (NC) Montessori School’s value-infused infographic made me a believer in the advantages of their educational program. It is strong precisely because it is grounded in both market and customer satisfaction research, and it hits all four elements of value.
Although it was originally conceived as a retention reinforcement tool, the infographic could easily inspire new family enrollment and philanthropy. Greensboro Montessori’s Director of Marketing and Development Jillian Crone brought it to my attention following my full-day workshop on value and branding in Raleigh and Charlotte for the North Carolina Association of Independent Schools in Fall 2017.
On one page, GMS covers nearly all the bases:
- Professional development of faculty who have racked up 300 years of collective service and are still active learners.
- Geographic, ethnic/language, and dual career diversity in their enrollment.
- Matriculation to independent and public magnet high schools, with nearly 80% of their graduates entering at least one year ahead of their peers in math and Spanish.
- ACT scores well above North Carolina and USA averages.
- Quantitative and qualitative data from alumni about college merit scholarships earned as well as the advantages the Montessori education and experience conferred on them as adults.
- Use of the campus as a land conservancy.
- And to me, the “money shot” is that a whopping 96% of alumni claim their family’s investment in GMS was well worth it.
There are even more value points cited, too numerous to mention here. The miracle is how much they got on one page without overwhelming the reader.
I don’t think I’ve seen a more compelling case for retention, enrollment, and philanthropy by any Montessori school. In fact, what Greensboro Montessori has managed to do on one engaging page is better than what I’ve seen from many independent schools over a thirty-year span as a teacher, administrator, and consultant.
Greensboro Montessori's Admission Director Rhea Egbert reports that both reeenrollments and applications are up this year. "There's no question it's made my job easier. Many parents wouldn't even consider us unless they knew this information ahead of time.
"When they visit, I'm able to reference the data and also talk to them about the daily experience of being a Montessori family. The combination of outcomes and the social/emotional side of their child's daily life gives them loads of reassurance. When they see they can get the experiential learning they want for their child and also get an outcome that gives their child a competitive advantage -- that really helps distinguish us in the marketplace."
New Head of School Dr. Kevin Navarro puts it into perspective. "In our hearts, we know Montessori methodologies work. But with increasing tuitions, changing demographic expectations of younger generations, and increasing competition, knowing something in the heart isn't always enough for our parents. It is important to us that our families have both faith in our method and the proof points that will help them say, "Oh, yes, this feels great AND I can be confident that you are providing an amazing education for my child."
Next Steps for All Schools
The cost of an independent school education will continue to be a major deterrent for many families. If you don’t present credible and relatable evidence of value, price will crush you every time. Enrollment, retention, and philanthropy will suffer.
Value is something which must be systematically reinforced and validated.
It’s highly unlikely that anyone will be compelled to pay your tuition based solely on the “noble intentions” enshrined in your well-crafted mission, core values, or philosophy statement. Next to an insanely great program and the terrific teachers and coaches who facilitate it daily, evidence of value is demanded. In addition, communicating value is among the most critical jobs of everyone in the school, not just the person with “marketing” in their title.
Spend your marketing dollars on an outcomes brochure rather than a traditional viewbook. Send it out over multiple channels such as highly targeted direct mail. Let it inform social media content. Weave it into your blogs and communications with current parents and inquiries. Use it as a messaging tool for your advocates and ambassadors. Greensboro Montessori turned it into a handout for open houses, published a poster-sized version for display, and did a Facebook campaign highlighting six of the value points.
When you back up your case for value with both rational and emotional evidence, the pride of association it creates will make evangelists of your parents and faculty, and believers of those you want to attract and keep.
With clear and strong evidence that you are meeting and exceeding your mission, families will be much more apt to inquire, visit, apply, enroll, reenroll, and donate.
Congratulations to Greensboro Montessori School for a job well done!