Every year, beginning in January, the Sunshine Academy starts its annual enrollment campaign for the upcoming school year. They have a great marketing plan. They have a good feel for their target audiences. They have a strong, well-articulated brand. They have a great social media presence, and they tell their story well.
Each year in August, as a result of their successful marketing, they find their seats filling up, which is great. They also find themselves in a frenzy trying to accommodate all the students.
This is because they are unable to predict the number of returning students. They spend an enormous portion of their marketing budget and resources trying to entice their current student population to stay as well as trying to recruit new students.
And yet they have no idea how many current students will actually be staying on.
This is a huge problem for Sunshine Academy. And while they are doing well, they aren’t able to maximize their growth potential. They have been unable to figure out a solution to this dilemma.
In this article, you will learn how to implement and use a Continuous Enrollment Strategy, which will help you to leverage your current student body and recruit new students. Continuous enrollment is the perfect win-win marketing solution for a very common problem in educational enrollment.
What is a Continuous Enrollment Strategy?
Before we get into the strategy details, let’s define it first.
Continuous enrollment is a system wherein your current students are automatically re-enrolled for the upcoming school year.
It’s equivalent to the manual “opt-out” approach other industries use to maintain their current client base for subscription services.
Why it Works
Consumer research shows that consumers are more reluctant to ‘opt-in’ to services than they are to ‘opt-out’. Most businesses are capitalizing on this fact by automating as much of the renewal process as possible.
Bear in mind that this is not a marketing ‘trick’ or ploy. Clients are obviously made aware of this from the beginning of the contract and throughout the relationship. Prior to the renewal stage, a courtesy email notifying clients that they are renewing their membership or service is sent. Payment is then collected as per usual. Most marketers issue a statement such as:
“…this is a courtesy notification that your subscription is set for renewal on (date) and the payment will be automatically drafted from your account (or charged to your credit card). No further action is required from you at this time…”
It’s the “set it and forget it” concept. It is a natural human inclination to take the path of least resistance. Continuous enrollment encourages loyalty and makes it easier for current clients to renew their relationship with you.
Here’s why it works well in the school enrollment environment:
1. Higher re-enrollment rates in a high student churn environment.
The massive amount of school choice is hurting private and independent school enrollment, but can also provide a distinct advantage for you.
School choice is creating an excessive amount of student churn throughout the educational system. From Charter to Public schools, everyone is feeling the effect of this.
Parents are also overwhelmed. This is where continuous enrollment works to your advantage.
By automatically re-enrolling students, you make the choice easier for parents. Their child already attends a quality school, and they don’t have to do anything else.
Continuous enrollment eases the decision-making process for parents and allows you to retain your current students. It will also attract new parents who want a simpler, more automated re-enrollment procedure. Win-win.
2. Optimize your marketing budget.
Continuous enrollment eliminates unnecessary marketing. It decreases the amount of direct, aggressive marketing attempting to convince current students to stay. As a result, it allows you to shift your marketing focus to recruiting new students. You are able to stretch your marketing spend while reaching deeper into the pool of potential students.
3. Effectively allocate resources and plan for the upcoming school year.
Continuous enrollment gives you an edge in planning for the next year. You know which students will or will not be returning well before the critical planning and campaigning phases.
It forces undecided parents, and those who know their children will not be attending, to inform you by a certain date to avoid the automatic payment. This will allow you to better allocate resources, staff, and supplies.
It will help you decide which programs to keep and which programs to cut—before the school year begins. Continuous enrollment is one of the most effective planning and budgeting tools available.
4. Avoid sharp spikes and dips in enrollment.
Continuous enrollment removes the guesswork. Since parents must notify you of their decision not to remain a part of our school community, you know exactly how many spots you need to fill. This strategy will put an end to the dips and spikes in enrollment. It will help you maintain a continuous, steady, and manageable growth rate. Higher efficiency, a better service to students, and higher profits.
Do’s and Don’ts of Continuous Enrollment
Keep it simple.
Automate as much of the process as you can. The more convenient it is for parents to re-enroll, the better.
Inform, inform, inform!
Keep parents informed from the beginning of the enrollment contract and throughout. This is something that makes their lives easier too, so include that in your communication.When the time comes, let them know their child is being re-enrolled and inform them of the automatic payment date.
Show appreciation and reward customer loyalty.
Incentivize parents who stick with you whenever possible. Take $20 dollars off of their payment, waive a fee, or provide a complimentary gift whenever possible. Let them know you appreciate them for sticking with you.
Use parent engagement to your advantage.
Create opportunities for parent involvement, and keep records of all the participants and activities. Keep a record of parent volunteers, PTA attendance and other instances of school involvement. Be sure to send frequent ‘Thank You’s’ to your regular and faithful parents. Also, send ‘We missed you’s’ to parents who are not regularly involved. Appreciate the ones who are involved, and encourage those who are not.
Keep communication ongoing. Refresh your website and social media content often. Make sure you keep parents informed. Most importantly, send personalized communications to parents letting them know that you value them.
Avoid treating all parents the same.
This point speaks to target marketing. All parents are important, but they all have different needs, as well as different benefits to the school. Beyond another enrolled student, some may also bring you access, influence, special skills, internal networks and other important resources. Some parents are more active, engaged and prominent within the community and therefore have more influence. Use this knowledge to your advantage.
Don’t overcomplicate the process.
Make the entire process as easy as possible from beginning-to-end. The more you can do and the less you require parents to do, the better. This also applies to parents who are un-enrolling a student. Be sure to also keep a record of why they are choosing to un-enroll their student, but be sure to make that process easy too.
Independent schools who have made the shift to a continuous re-enrollment strategy absolutely love it. The benefits for both the school and the parents are clear to see, and those that have made the change never go back.
The Continuous Enrollment model does take time and energy to establish, but, once the system is in place, it is self-sustaining. It simplifies enrollment for returning students. It reduces the workload of school administrators. And it allows for better use of the school’s time, resources, and marketing budget.