12 Strategies to Turn Around a Declining Enrollment

My entire 25 year professional career has been involved in admissions and marketing in education. For 12 years, I worked at a private university in Michigan and provided leadership to turnaround their declining enrollment. During my tenure, we nearly doubled the enrollment. For the past 13 years, I have worked with independent schools to grow their enrollment.

Working with schools is my passion. I love the challenge of helping a school grow.

Screen Shot 2013-08-09 at 11.06.14 PMDuring the past few years, I have had the opportunity to partner with several schools to successfully turn around their declining enrollments. At the AISAP Summer Institute in Nashville, I presented a workshop, Marketing Your School in Troubled Times, outlining 12 strategies that worked in these schools to grow their enrollments. While there are many factors that can affect growth and are out of your control, the following strategies are within your control and can help turnaround a declining enrollment:

#1 – Committed, personal and visionary leadership – I believe that enrollment will rise or fall based on the leadership. In order to successfully lead a private school, the leadership much be committed to providing an excellence educational experience that is led by leaders who are both personal and visionary. In addition, all of these school heads were willing to take risks to turn around their declining enrollment.

#2 – Develop and communicate the school’s brand – In order to effectively market a school in the community, it is critical to understand your school’s brand identity. This is much more than your school’s logo and graphic standards, it is the “Purple Cow” that Seth Godin describes as what makes your school remarkable. It is what differentiates your school in the crowded marketplace. When parents are very satisfied with a school that is remarkable, the marketing and enrollment turnaround effort will be built on this foundation.

#3 – Analyze enrollment results and set goals – In order to grow a school, it is critical to analyze your enrollment data from your admissions funnel yield to your retention rates. Then, once you have assessed your data, you can set a goal for growth. Whenever you set a goal, it is important to establish goals that are realistic and challenging.

#4 – Devote resources to the staff and the team – In many of these cases, resources were committed to new marketing and enrollment staff members. By taking a strategic risk to hire the right personnel, the enrollment reward was great and far exceeded the budget investment.

#5 – Launch a parent ambassadors program – By recruiting key parent volunteers the enrollment and marketing effort can be exponentially increased. These parent ambassadors will help to reach out to prospective families, churches, schools, neighborhoods and online.

#6 – Consistent follow-up with inquiries – It is surprising that many of these admission’s offices had a “once and done” follow-up approach. By implementing a persistent and personal follow-up strategy with inquiries, yield increased. It’s a simple but effective sales approach that is often neglected in school admissions’ offices.

#7 – Re-recruit your current families – Just because a family enrolls in your school this year does not guarantee their continued enrollment. Because of this, each school focused on implementing strategies to re-recruit their families back for another year. Through increased retention, the schools experienced increased enrollment.

#8 – Implement a word of mouth marketing campaign – Word of mouth marketing is the most important strategy you can implement. In these schools, they worked to harness the power of word of mouth through their current parents to spread the message about their school in the community.

#9 – Focus resources on the school’s website – Your school’s website is the most important marketing and communicating tool. It should be geared toward your prospective parents. This should be one of the focal points of your marketing budget.

#10 – Generate leads through online marketing strategies – Generating leads through your online marketing including effective call-to-actions, landing pages, search engine optimization and pay-per-click strategies all contributed to increased interest in these schools.

#11 – Tell your school’s story online – Telling stories about your school on your website and on Facebook is your main online strategy. While you can get overwhelmed with the plethora of social media sites online, your effort should focus on Facebook. By posting at least one story a day, you provide a window into your school. Just think, you never know who is browsing your school’s Facebook page and thus making a decision about whether or not to take the next step based on what they read and see. This is what has worked in these schools that experienced an enrollment turnaround.

#12 – Aggressively use financial aid to generate revenue – Utilized effectively, financial aid is a tool that can maximize your tuition revenue and enrollment. While we would certainly like to enroll more full-pay families, tuition discounting by focusing on net tuition revenue can help fill empty seats. By gaining revenue you would potentially lose, your school’s enrollment can grow.

In the upcoming months, I plan to turn this blog post into an e-book. If you are interested in downloading my presentation, you can access it on SlideShare by clicking on this link.

This presentation and blog post has been based on work with: Northside Christian Academy, Charlotte, NC; Lakeland Christian School, Lakeland, FL; Calvin Christian School in South Holland, IL; Indian Rocks Christian School, Largo, FL; and Canterbury School of Florida, St. Petersburg, FL, as well as other schools that are part of the Enrollment Catalyst Program. All of these schools experienced an enrollment turnaround.

Have you experienced an enrollment turnaround at your school?

What strategies worked at your school?