When a school’s enrollment is stagnant or declining, school administrators and Boards are often quick to identify the reasons for the slide. In my consulting work with private-independent schools, I frequently hear concerns about external factors like market demographics, rising tuition costs, and competitors with newer and shinier facilities.
When we fall short of our enrollment goals, it’s easy (and perhaps more comfortable) to look for the reasons beyond our own campus, program, and people.
But I am convinced now more than ever that if schools want to solve their enrollment challenges, they must examine what’s happening within their own ecosystem before shining the light on what surrounds them.
If there is one thing that has unequivocally stayed the same decade after decade, it’s that new families find our schools through people they know. Among the hundreds of school admission and marketing directors I’ve worked with through the years, none would claim that any single source brings them more mission-aligned families than good old-fashioned personal referrals.
When a school’s culture, outcomes, and value proposition are firing on all cylinders, your families can’t wait to spread the good news about their personal experiences.
And when your culture turns toxic, the outcomes are suspect, and the value proposition fades? Well, your families are quick to share that news too.
Just as positive word-of-mouth draws new families to our schools, negative word-of-mouth repels them far and fast.
And negative chatter isn’t just a detriment to attracting people to your school – it can be just as destructive to your student and faculty retention efforts.
If your school is committed to discovering the truth behind its enrollment slide, begin not by poring through census data and competitor websites but instead by asking difficult and brave questions about the quality of the efficacy of your program, the validity of your outcomes, and the benefits you provide to every student and family you serve.
What you find may not only surprise you – it may also save your school.