Latest headlines: NAIS enrollments down 10% in 10 years. Hard inquiries down 20%, mirroring private colleges. Listservs buzzing about how to increase full-pay families. Even successful schools with waitlists in upper grades are concerned about lower school enrollment, where the value proposition is often more difficult to make.
Sound familiar? When I was an admission officer for a boarding and day school a couple of decades back, I was seeing similar issues even then. But the threats have since multiplied many times over. See SSATB’s excellent report, Sizing Up the Competition here.
I remember interviewing for my first admission job and asking the admission director I was to replace to acquaint me with her marketing strategy. “I just wait for the phone to ring,” was her reply, as she calmly crocheted, relaxing behind her paper-free, exquisite walnut desk.
But as the competition has ramped up, so have the tools that are at our disposal to confront it head-on.
The past seven years we've been creating a model geared to the needs of independent schools to help increase the number of full pay leads you can generate -- and the strategy to turn those prospects into hard inquiries and visits. Imagine being able to pinpoint them at rooftop level and seeing where your current parents, faculty, trustees, alumni, and brand ambassadors live in relation to your prospects in order to mount a word-of-mouth campaign.
Imagine knowing not only their home value, but how much equity they have. For schools that are struggling to increase diversity, imagine knowing their religious preferences and ethnicity. For schools trying to balance their enrollment with more athletes or more artists, imagine knowing who they are and where to recruit them. For development officers, imagine knowing what charities they support. For the CFO, imagine being able to visualize the numbers of potential market-profile, mission-appropriate children in incoming classes by age, beginning with newborns. For all these, imagine knowing what messages motivate them to action, and how they want you to approach them.
And finally, imagine projecting where your mission-appropriate families who share your values will live five years out, so you can proactively "skate to where the puck is heading."
It’s called Enrollment Feasibility and Forecasting. When I was in admission, I would have killed to have had the intelligence these tools provide to help me deploy my ambassadors and my marketing budget in the most cost-effective way.
Now, Heads, Boards, and CFOs are demanding it. And if you are a savvy data-driven admission director, marketing director, or development director, you should strongly consider it, too.
Even though demographics are shifting and the competition is breathing down our necks, there is always a way to deal with it--intelligently. Granted—nothing will ever replace great teachers, great teaching, and a curriculum that will help our students adapt to the world they will inherit. That’s our product. Great teaching and learning is our strongest marketing asset.
You may have the greatest educational "product" in the world. But it won’t matter unless the right people know about you, and you can prove to them that you deliver it better than anyone else.