How Private Schools Can Use Character Education To Boost Enrollment

As a private or independent school, you should be thriving. With so much to offer and the highest grade averages, things should be going very well indeed.

As you might have experienced already, this isn’t the case for everyone.

Current enrollment rates show public schools as steady and charter schools rapidly expanding. Private and independent schools, on the other hand, are seeing enrollment numbers decrease.

Why is this? The economy might have a role to play. But even when times are tough, parents will prioritize their children.

The problem isn’t about what private schools are lacking. It’s that they aren’t capitalizing on what they’ve got.

Charter schools, public schools, even online schools are amazing choices. For some students.

Talking to over one hundred schools each month at Enrollhand, we have the privilege of getting acquainted with increasingly unique business models. They each have their place. Look at BASIS, look at AltSchool, great stuff.

Yay for school choice (with certain constraints).

Private education also has an important role to play. I believe it is not living up to its potential.

In this article, I will show you how to capitalize on one the most valuable components of your private or independent school. I will show you how to rebrand yourself based on the greatest asset at your disposal: Character Education.

Character Education and Private/Independent Schools

Character Education places a high emphasis on moral, ethical, social and reasoning skills within the existing syllabus. A high-quality educational package which truly prepares students for life must incorporate this, and it is also in higher demand than ever.

Private and independent schools already incorporate character development throughout their educational package. They have smaller classes, more time, and for the most part, educators who have higher skill sets.

Public and charter schools tend to have separate subjects or programs devoted to character development or education.

With the fewer staff, higher student numbers and a high focus on achieving only academic benchmarks (which their funding depends on), they are generally unable to apply character teaching holistically. Some would say: a character education is not their mission. They are attracting parents with different goals. And good for them!

Character Education and Academic Success

Holistic Character Education improves academic performance. Research proves it. It also shows that weak, stand-alone character ed. programs have little to no impact on academic performance.

Private and independent schools experience fewer disciplinary issues and higher academic success as a result. A study involving 651 elementary schools showed that schools placing more emphasis on character education outperformed those with standalone programs by more than 50% on average. Those schools with embedded character development programs had the highest academic scores and the least disciplinary issues.

The Strong Case for a Private School Education

The Council for American Private Education (CAPE) reported that in 2012, 83 percent of private school graduates (faith-based and independent) met or surpassed the ACT readiness benchmark scores in English. Only 64 percent of public school students met the benchmark. Private schools students out-performed all others in reading, math, and science. Every racial and ethnic demographic of private school students outperformed their public school counterparts.

This research also serves as a predictor of college success. As a whole, private or independent school students fare better in college and are more likely to graduate than public school students.

As mentioned previously, economics play a factor in private schools not doing as well as before. Times are tough. Often the academic disparity between public and private achievement isn’t significant enough to make parents shell out the extra cash.

Academics alone won’t sway them. They figure that their children will probably get the qualifications they need in a public school anyway.

Charter schools are getting extremely good at pursuing tight, focused value propositions. Like forward-looking businesses, they are not trying to be all things to all parents. They are picking a fight, expressing a strong belief about education, developing a signature program that backs this belief and picking up a segment of the parent population that feel the same,

What does this mean?

You’ve got to offer them something public and charter schools can’t.

You’ve got it. Flaunt it.

The values, ethics and religious principles of private and independent schools are their foundations.

This should be the heart of your marketing campaign.

Your high GPAs, test scores and college and university graduation rates are great, but your true strength—the defining factor that makes you different to all the other magnet, charter, art, college prep, specialty schools and home-school programs, is the fact that you develop the character and integrity of your students. All day, every day. You develop the whole child.

THIS is what the parents pay for.

Advertise it.

Build your brand around it.

Make this your story.

Enrollhand’s three-step approach to capitalize on character

1. Define and Develop

You reign supreme in the area of character development. You do it, and you do it well. It’s automatic. So much so, that you don’t recognize it when you’re doing it.

Here are some tips on defining and developing what you already have:

Determine the character traits most important to parents, and advertise them.

Do they value interpersonal skills? Highlight group projects and collaborative efforts. Do they value empathy and social justice? Include some of your charitable campaigns in your communication. Whatever they value, find a way to incorporate those values in everything you do. The language used in newsletters, on the website, social media posts, etc., should reflect these values.

Ask yourself, if a new parent were to visit your campus, could they determine your value system and mission without speaking to anyone? Is it visible in the décor, classroom set up and student work on display? Would they see your values reflected in student interaction and the attitude of the teachers?

Encourage everyone to identify character-defining moments.

Whether it’s a charitable initiative a student or teacher initiates, or parents noticing the discipline students display in sporting events, encourage teachers, students and parents to recognize and express the moments that personify your school’s character.

It is important to capture and capitalize on these moments. They are a part of your story. They show how you walk the walk.

Create awards that reward your most valued character traits.

Recognize and reward students, teachers, and parents for displaying these traits. Create a series of awards that recognize specific character traits. Encourage teachers, students and parents to nominate others for these awards.

The idea is to engage and involve your stakeholders in each step of the process. You could also have a series of character awards that are “for the students by the students.” This will develop the school’s values in the students and instill a sense of pride, too.

Live your Values.

How do you handle disciplinary issues? How do you reward good behavior? What are your core values? How do you reflect these values in the classroom, during free time, in your sports and extracurricular programs?

Develop a Character Manifesto.

Implementing character development into everything you do is essential.

Have your values clearly expressed in your mission statement, on your website, social media pages, and in the classrooms.

2. Make it Part of the Brand

For most schools, character education is a program. It starts, runs four to six weeks and then it ends.

For you, it has to be a movement, a way of life and your modus operandi. Part of the brand.

Branding is important.

Your brand is your identity. It is what others think when they hear your name. It is objective. People can see it. It’s fixed. It’s your impression.

Here are some effective ways of entrenching your character into your brand:

PSAs: Have monthly campaigns that focus on one or two character traits. Create weekly public service announcements (PSAs) around these traits.

Blog about it: Tell stories about students, families, teachers or community members that are developing the trait of the month. Make the stories touching, heartfelt and creative.

Show progressions: When students are struggling and overcome a hardship, highlight it. Allow the student or parents to tell their own story.

Journaling: This is a great way to capture and relay these stories of struggle and triumph. Encouraging students to journal through a difficult time is transformative. It teaches them how to set and celebrate small milestones along the way.

3. Say it loud and say it proud

Broadcasting what you are doing helps you establish meaningful connections. This is beneficial for you in several ways.

First, it recruits new families. It captures the attention of parents who may not have been considering private school. Once they hear the great things your school is doing, they go from not interested to potential enrollees.

Second, it strengthens the bond with families already involved. Everyone wants to be a part of something special, and once they are, they don’t want to leave.

Third, it creates a buzz. Free and organic advertising. This can attract positive attention in the form of media coverage, an increase in social media following and of course, lots of enrollments!

Finally, and very importantly, Social Media is one of the quickest and most effective ways to get your message heard. Raising enrollment involves boosting your online and Social Media presence. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

Images and videos: Images and videos are powerful tools. They help build your brand, engage your visitors and assist in telling your story. This is the primary reason Instagram is so popular. It is a quick way to peak interest and can serve as an appetizer to the main course. Incorporate lots of photos and videos (kids LOVE seeing themselves, and parents LOVE seeing their kids), and provide links to the important content on your website, blog or Facebook page.

Action shots: A natural, candid shot beats a posed pic every day of the week. Help your staff develop the habit of taking lots and lots of photos.

Refresh your content often: Post announcements, upcoming events, highlights and sports results. Make sure the center of your content remains character driven.

Keep content reflective of your character: Allow character development to be the major theme for every post.

Keep it in the family: Get your students, parents, and teachers involved in all your online activity. Allow them to submit ideas, pictures, blog posts and content for your website and social media pages.

Engage: Ensure that your content is engaging. Encourage students, parents, and teachers to like and comment on your posts and follow your page. Make sure that families and the community drive what you post. Stay in tune with them. If you are not connecting with your target audience, you’re wasting your time.

In closing, remember that you already have everything you need. It’s just a matter of getting that fine character of yours into the hearts and minds of everybody else. Find creative ways to highlight what you are doing. Make character development the focal point of all of your online presence. Enlist the help of your students, staff, parents and community leaders in displaying how you are changing lives and thriving academically by focusing on character. You must be persistent, intentional and creative. You are exactly what parents want in a school. Now prove it.