Re-Enrollment and Internal Marketing – An Interview with Alison Lescarbeau at Admiral Farragut Academy

Alison Lescarbeau Several years ago I had the opportunity to connect with Alison Lescarbeau at a conference sponsored by Cherry+Company (my previous employer). Alison is the Advancement Director at Admiral Farragut Academy in St. Petersburg, FL.

One of her “aha” moments came when she realized that her re-enrollment process should be used to internally market the school to current parents.

As you know, re-enrollment is the common practice in independent and faith-based schools to enroll families for the next school year. By the way, last week I launched my first e-Book highlighting 12 strategies to keep your current families enrolled which included some of the ideas that Alison has implemented. In just one week, nearly 500 school leaders from around the world have downloaded my e-Book.

The following blog post is an interview with Alison about the changes she made to the re-enrollment process and strategy at Admiral Farragut Academy:

Several years ago you made a shift in using your re-enrollment period as a time to internally market Admiral Farragut.

“Yes, after attending a conference hosted by Cherry+Company in which Rick Newberry was a featured presenter, a light went off in my head and I asked myself, ‘Why do we (the school) spend so much time and money recruiting new students and not retaining our existing families?’ I knew we needed to focus on improving customer service and retention.”

What did you do?

“We started preaching to our faculty and staff the importance of everyone’s involvement in family retention. By making sure they knew how crucial they were to performing at their best as well as recognizing problems and being part of the solution before families get upset, we were able to focus on retention.

In addition, I also looked at the information we were sending out to our families for re-enrollment and quite frankly I was disappointed. We sent a letter with a contract asking them to send us thousands of dollars. Really? Is this the best we could do? I spoke with the Headmaster and the Division Heads to see how we could improve this and make it more of an internal marketing effort.”

How do you handle re-enrollment at Admiral Farragut?

“We made the following improvements and focused on internal marketing:

  • We have internal billboards that our in-house maintenance staff built on campus and we change the theme each year. (Value Added, Where Students Become Leaders, Where Happy Children Learn, Here our Students…) They are written so they are relevant for admissions tours and existing families. Although our families know what we do here, it is always nice to see a visual reminder and photos of kids in action.Screen Shot 2013-11-19 at 9.25.23 PM
  • In January, we start with a message from our Headmaster to all parents outlining some of the highlights of the year and plans for improved facilities and programs for the coming year. We also tell them the re-enrollment process will conclude with a survey so we can get their feedback on how we are doing. This reinforces to our parents that we want to listen to them.
  • This message follows with the brief survey to parents asking them about their experience at Farragut and their re-enrollment intentions.
  • For our planning purposes, we also ask them; Are you planning to re-enroll? Do you want to schedule a meeting with the division head to discuss your child’s schedule and academic plan for next year? What is the best time for our meeting and the best way to reach you?
  • We compile the replies and we manage our time based on their response. For example, if they plan to re-enroll and don’t want a meeting we just thank them and send a nicely packaged re-enrollment package. If they want a meeting, we schedule a one-on-one meeting and then give them the package. The survey really acts as a great time management tool for our staff. It also really makes parents feel connected.Screen Shot 2013-11-19 at 9.33.13 PM
  • After the survey is completed, we send several emails with messages and reminders about re-enrollment and links to contracts, etc. We have tables for re-enrollment at sporting events on campus. Mostly, we follow up with phone calls to our parents reminding them to re-enroll.
  • Lastly, we get everyone on campus involved! Our Faculty has the crucial connection with the students and we ask them for input regarding our parent’s experience on our campus. We may also ask residential life staff to call parents regarding re-enrollment.”

What motivated you to make this change?

“I knew we needed to provide better customer service to our existing families and I knew it was easier to keep a family as opposed to recruiting a new one.”

What impact did it have?

“In the past three years, our retention rate has really improved and stabilized. We don’t have many surprises! Families appreciate the fact that we care and are listening. Our staff feels like a part of the process.”

What are you planning to do this year?

“We will keep the program outlined above and plan to add an electronic contract as well as an incentive to re-enroll on time. If parents re enroll after the March 15th deadline, they will incur a re-enrollment fee of $150. I would also like to have the funds to give all students a t-shirt once they have re-enrolled (I’ll be back next year! Will you?) and have them wear it on Fridays.”

What advice would you give other school marketing and enrollment directors?

“Take a look at customer service and determine how you can make your families feel valued by improving the process for them to stay, streamlining your forms and making it easier get the paperwork complete. Think about the cost of keeping a family versus recruiting a new one.”

Thanks Alison for sharing how you use your re-enrollment period to internally market Admiral Farragut Academy to your parents.

What do you think about Alison’s process and strategy for re-enrollment and internal marketing?

How do you use your re-enrollment period to internally market to your parents?