What Every Private School Should Do To Prepare for the Shifting Demographics

Are you planning for the future of education based on outdated demographics?

If so, you are making a common and potentially serious mistake. To meet the needs of your future students, you must consider and plan for these undeniable shifts.

Parents are waiting longer to have children. A stronger focus on education and career during their 20’s and 30’s seems to be a major reason for this. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, the number of first-time moms over 35 is nine times higher than it was in the 1970s. And 71 percent of those mothers have had some college education.

While religious, values-based education will always be in high demand, religious affiliations are changing. Whether it’s a more diverse religious affiliation or a move away from denominational religion, the times are changing and this will directly impact your campus.

Your student body will also be more culturally diverse. The racial and ethnic makeup of schools, nationally and internationally, is changing. Different outlooks and different beliefs need new views and strategies.

In this article, we’ll show you how to recognize, prepare for, and meet the demands of your future student body.

Preparation has to begin now.

Older and wiser parents

There is a clear trend emerging across the country, and around the world:

Women are waiting longer to give birth.

In the past 45 years, the average age for a woman to give birth to her first child has risen from 21.4 to 26.3, and it continues to increase.

What does this mean for the independent school sector? It means that parents are older, wiser, better educated, and more financially secure.

Studies show that parents are increasingly seeking alternatives to public education, and the higher education and salary of modern parents is certainly a factor. Another factor is discernment. Parents who have the resources and knowledge tend to have high standards and are looking for options beyond the usual public school in their district.

As a result, they are spending time, effort, and resources researching their options to find the best fit for their child. Standing out in this discerning market is essential.

Parents are also having fewer children. The number of single-child households has doubled in the past 20 years. All of the parents’ effort, energy, time, and resources are being invested in their only child. These parents are looking to educate, protect, and prepare their most precious commodity.

What you need to focus on is providing the assurance that your school is the best option for their child.

The changing religious landscape

There are 55.6 million students enrolled in K-12 education. Of that number, only 5.2 million currently attend a private or independent school. We’ve seen a significant drop in numbers, mainly because of the drop in religious school enrollment, which makes up a large percentage of the private/independent school market.

And that number continues to drop.


Part of the reason is due to the shifting religious landscape. Christianity is still the dominant faith in America, with children from Christian households making up the largest percentage of independent school enrollments. However, a move away from strong religious affiliation, and the fact that other religions are becoming increasingly represented mean that the statistics are changing.

In ten short years, from 2007 to 2017, the number of Americans who identify as Christian has dropped by eight percent. Almost twenty-five percent of the population identifies as “unaffiliated.” And those whose religious affiliation is “non-Christian” has jumped from 4.7 to 5.9 percent.

Tellingly, the Council for American Private Education asked parents of private schoolers to identify the single biggest factor impacting their decision to opt for a private education, the biggest response was:

“A better educational opportunity”.

“Religious reasons” came in a close second.

Parents are increasingly prioritizing the educational and moral values, which private and independent schools offer, and are becoming less concerned about any specific religious affiliation.

Race relations

According to projections, by the year 2025, 46 percent of all students will be white. The other 44 percent will be made up of a variety of other ethnicities. The gap is closing. America is becoming more diverse by the day. Your student population will obviously reflect this too.

Another trend affecting cultural diversity is the increase in international enrollment. International enrollment in American secondary institutions has increased ten percent in the last five years. This is the highest growth spurt in the past 35 years.

American secondary schools are gaining international popularity. In 2014, the Institute of International Education reported that 73,019 international students were enrolled in U.S. schools. And of those students, 67% were seeking their secondary diploma. Foreign students wanting to attend a U.S. college or university improve their chances of gaining admittance by attending a U.S. secondary school.

To capitalize on this trend, private schools should begin targeted international recruitment campaigns. And that doesn’t mean you have to launch an expensive overseas marketing campaign. You can recruit them from within the U.S.

The trick is to treat domestically recruited international students as their own audience. They have issues, needs, and questions that are neglected by traditional recruitment efforts. Address those needs and relate to this growing market segment.

Embrace the change

In order to stay competitive and relevant, you have to begin preparing now. Below is a list of 10 things you can begin doing immediately:

  1. Research: Start by researching the demographic shifts in your area. Study and understand the trends.

  2. Target: Plan outreach efforts that target the new audience. Target older parents and describe how your environment will enrich the life of an only child.

  3. Highlight your value system: Adjust your brand to mirror the changing religious trends. Focus on the morals, values and character education you offer. Even if you are a religious school, denominational affiliation is not as important as basic values are to modern parents. Make sure this message is clear and advertised.

  4. Adopt an international mindset: Showcase the fact that your school supports, welcomes, and embraces a diverse community.

  5. Recruit internationally in your own backyard: Find and connect with your local international community. Treat them as a separate audience. Cater to their needs.

  6. Begin diversifying now: Offer international clubs, extracurricular activities and community events that focus on diversity and inclusion. Adapt your curriculum to relate to your modern student community.

  7. Use sophisticated advertising: Parents are older, wiser and more educated. Ensure that your messaging engages them. Incorporate an air of sophistication into your storytelling. Use statistics and logic. Instead of telling them, rather convince them that you are the best choice for their child.

  8. Re-educate your staff: Provide the appropriate training for your school’s staff to handle the challenges that diversity brings. Have a plan for addressing the specific needs of international students.

  9. Provide assistance programs: This is essential when dealing with the international community. Consider the relevant programs you can provide. Can you assist with travel, language education, and visa issues? What can you do to make their lives easier?

  10. Remain flexible and open-minded: The most important way to remain relevant and current is to be flexible and open-minded. Be willing to change your modus operandi. Ensure that your students come first. Adapt your philosophy and procedures to accommodate them, and they will become your greatest advertisers.