A number of schools are telling us:
It doesn’t look good.
School choice doesn’t seem to be helping.
But we keep answering:
Despite the negative outlook, there is a way to not only survive but thrive in this current climate.
You need to step up your student recruitment game.
In this article, we will reveal the art and science of student recruitment by taking you through five simple marketing strategies that will have parents knocking on your door.
First, let’s get some background.
Why are some schools winning the enrollment game while others are losing?
Large endowment? Convenient location? Great facilities? Perfect college acceptance rates? Star teachers? Sure, all these things are very important. Whether you are an independent school, charter school, faith-based parochial, public or any other type of school, you know this.
However, some schools have only some (or even none) of those things and have seen an upsurge in enrollment. They aren’t just surviving, they’re doing even better than before. How is this possible?
Essentially, these schools have adjusted their strategies. They’ve invested in enrollment campaigns. Successful schools are investing between 2.5% and 10% of their annual budget in enrollment marketing, and it’s paying off big time.
The Unfortunate Truth: private school enrollment is in freefall.
Private school enrollment has taken a hit.
Catholic schools have less than half as many students as they did 50 years ago.
The U.S. Department of Education estimates that enrollment will drop to less than nine percent by 2021.
Most people think the primary reason for declining enrollment is the state of our economy. That is a small part of the big problem.
Even with new initiatives and programs providing tax credits or publicly funded tuition vouchers for private education, enrollment numbers continue to decline.
The cost of offering financial aid has skyrocketed, and a quarter of all private school students receive it.
The trend of moving students back into public schools pre-dates the recession. Affluent families are one of the largest groups leading the public school trend.
Public and Charter school stats look much better, but school leaders are plagued by financing issues and bad news.
Looking at the stats, you would think the public sector would be happy. After all, the schools are free, it’s so much easier to attract students, right?
Public schools also struggle to get the word out. They also need to convince and attract, it’s not easy.
With school choice increasing, there is more “creative destruction” and everyone is having a hard time.
But one fact still remains. Parents value a good school and a quality education for their children. The schools who are doing very well despite the trends are a testament to this.
Here’s the deal: In order to survive, you need to evolve with the times and become a storyteller.
Let’s go through the five steps.
Five Steps To Boost Enrollment
1. Own Your Brand
Your brand is the essence of who you are. It is your school’s story. It is your promise and the delivery of that promise to your stakeholders is essential.
What makes your school unique?
Do you offer STEM or other specialized courses? Is your school environmentally friendly? Do you have unique partnerships or sponsors that benefit your students? Are your GPAs, standardized test scores, and other metrics higher than the national average?
Your brand is unique to you. Your attributes and offerings need to be expressed, but first, they need to be defined.
Once you’ve defined them, make them a prominent part of all your communication.
2. Catering To The Market
Start by defining who you are. What unique experiences, resources, and tools do you offer? Why is your school the optimal choice?
Critical areas to analyze:
Student goals – What are you doing to develop the whole child? What programs are in place to support struggling learners? How do you support students with special needs? What counseling programs are available for students with emotional issues? What afterschool programs and extracurricular activities do you offer? How do you define student success?
Competitors – Determine which schools are your primary competitors and what they are offering. What does their website promise? What do parents say about them? How are you different?
Job Market – Determine which professions and jobs are most prevalent in your area. Talk to local associations, local business people. What jobs are becoming a growing trend? How does your school speak to them?
Racial/Ethnic/gender demographics – Determining and understanding the racial, ethnic and gender composition of your area is critical. It enhances your ability to address your school’s unique needs and challenges.
Projected changes in population – how is your recruitment area changing ethnically, racially and socioeconomically? What will it look like in ten years? What steps are you taking to prepare for the changes? What are you doing to ensure that you are nimble enough to flow with the projected changes?
Socio-economics – determining the median household income for your area is essential to understanding and designing programs that are appropriate and sensitive to the financial circumstances of potential enrollees.
3. Online Marketing Rules
Digital marketing is vital. Billboards, TV, radio and direct mail are past their sell-by date. Jim Smith, Chief Executive Pastor at Bloomington Christian School, saw a very limited return on investment from radio, magazine, and print advertising and turned to online marketing to solve his enrollment issues. The results were instant.
The digital marketing space is expanding, and it’s the future.
Here are a few things to consider:
Social media ads should be a primary component of your marketing strategy. Social media allows you to expand and broaden your reach while engaging your existing audience in meaningful ways.
Alice Hendrickson, Director of Enrollment at the Hargrave Military Academy, says that they “rely very heavily on social media. They have migrated away from a lot of old-school marketing channels but still incorporate very limited print and maintain a small radio presence in targeted areas.”
Digital storytelling is a creative and innovative way to tell your story and familiarize people with your brand. You can show one advertisement after the other in a specific sequence which tells a story. This can be done across platforms and can be tailored to suit any campaign.
Conversion Funnels are a set of steps a visitor to your website needs to take before reaching conversion—or taking the action you want them to take. They include all the steps required to move from browsing your website to the targeted end-state, which is on your conversion page.
A conversion could be as simple as scheduling an appointment or filling out a pre-enrollment form. Figure out what your goals are and what you want visitors to do on your site, and then create a funnel for it.
The quickest way to get people through your funnel is by having a well-defined brand and hyper-targeted marketing.
Hypertargeting is the ability to deliver a tailored message to a specific niche or select audience. A good analysis of your catchment area in step 2 makes this a piece of cake. Hyper-targeting is the most efficient way to stretch your advertising dollars. No dollar goes wasted, and all your ads are seen by people who are relevant to you.
4. Keep Enrollment Consistent
Recruitment and enrollment efforts don’t end when school begins. Building and maintaining enrollment numbers is an annual endeavor. One of the biggest mistakes any school can make is the failure to plan for a year-round campaign.
You might think that you don’t have the budget for a year-round campaign. You actually spend less when you have goals for each month of the year. Is June always a weak month for student inquiries? Share those educational videos, post 2 articles on parents’ blogs to help the undecideds come to you in August.
Do you have any issues with different class sizes between Pre-K and 12th grade? Failing to have a strategy for maintaining class size and balancing lopsided enrollment numbers is a recipe for disaster.
Managing your enrollment numbers proactively guarantees stability and consistency. St. Finbar Parish School in Burbank, California is generally satisfied with their enrollment, yet Rosselle Azar, Director of Marketing and Development, wants to iron out “some spots in each grade that become available because of students transferring in and out.” Rosselle plans to fill these imbalances through “targeted digital marketing.”
Parent satisfaction surveys are another excellent measurement tool that can help improve academic rigor and morale.
You need to understand what really makes your parents happy.
Surveys help you gauge which parents will most likely re-enroll their students. You will be able to identify those who are “on the fence,” address their concerns in advance, and gain their support for the upcoming year.
Think of it this way: Parents are making a major decision that influences the rest of their child’s future.
They need to be familiar and comfortable with classroom routines and school rules.
5. Measuring And Assessing
Most schools fail to track and assess the effectiveness of their marketing plan.
Keep a simple log of all aspects of the enrollment process. Record things such as website visits, conversions, requests for information, school visits, applications submitted, deposits and new and returning students.
This type of tracking leads to an organized, effective and successful enrollment campaign.
If you do fall short of your goals, you have a detailed account of what you did. Adjusting your processes is much easier than starting from scratch. It’s important to remember that you can’t improve what you don’t measure.
Enrollment Marketing: Art or Science?
Marketing has become equal parts art and science. As we discussed earlier, a big part of marketing is the ability to craft a good narrative.
Storytelling is an art. And we all love a good story. Stories are memorable. They are easily retold. Providing your audience with a good story enables them to communicate the details of your school clearly. Which leads to the best marketing tool for all—word of mouth.
Stories have the power to change our attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors. Research has found that a good story can motivate voluntary cooperation.
Storytelling combined with technology is a science.
Digital stories are a mixture of images, text, audio narration, video clips, and music. This is what brings a well-formed narrative to life and allows you to deliver the story effectively to your target market.
These stories are deliverable to any device and a variety of social networks at any time. You don’t need to choose one medium, as different platforms are best for different audiences.
Tiffany Seybert, Principal at St. Mary-Basha Catholic School has started using “Instagram more often since, based on her research, it’s a better source of advertising to the millennials.”
Keep your finger on your market’s pulse.
Besides the obvious benefit of telling your story across digital platforms (getting information to your market), you can watch in real-time as your audience interacts with your story. Their behavior will let you know what’s working and what isn’t.
Why did they click on this ad but not that one? Why did they watch 34 seconds of the second video (a great result!) but only 5 seconds of the third one?
You need to test, adapt, refine your story and keep improving. Your story shapes your brand. Your brand increases enrollment.
Merging the art of storytelling with the science of targeted digital marketing is the key to increasing enrollment. This is the secret some schools are learning first hand. It is much much easier than it might seem, as long as you have the right tools and the right team.
You could try to do this alone, or you could get some expert assistance from a team who has the tools and experience you need to get you started.
At Enrollhand this is what we do, and we’d be happy to assist.