Private School Marketing and Retention in Uncertain Times

Many private schools experienced another surge in enrollment this year. With the continued issues of the pandemic as well as concerns within public education, private and independent schools realized the boom from parents seeking alternatives.

This enrollment growth has created two issues for many private schools.

Cutting Back on Marketing

First, for the first time in some schools, enrollment is at or near capacity (many schools I have been working with are at this point). Reaching capacity is a good thing, and it is something that all school leaders strive for in their work. I haven’t ever had a school head tell me that they didn’t want to fill their school to capacity.

However, by reaching capacity, this creates a false feeling that you have arrived, and you should take your foot off the marketing gas pedal. Complacency can set in as you deal with the increased enrollment numbers as you think that this will always be the new normal.

Don’t cut your budget. Don’t turn off your lead generation strategies. Don’t shut down your admissions office. Don’t put a sign out front saying that you are full.

Even when your enrollment is surging or at capacity, this is the time to continue to aggressively market your school. When a school is in a position of strength, it is critical to continue this same focus on marketing.

Concerns About Retention

Secondly, school leaders are now more concerned about retention in the wake of families enrolling in private schools for the first time. This is a valid concern. Will the new families that enrolled last year and this year choose to continue their enrollment? Or is this just a short-time solution to their concerns and they will choose to leave your school for a more affordable, free option?

While we scramble to implement intentional strategies, retention is more about a parent’s set of values. I do believe that retention strategies like continuous enrollment, transition grade level meetings and parent communication can help.

However, if a parent’s values aren’t aligned with the educational experiences at your school and they aren’t willing to stay and pay, then retention will be an issue. In other words, it is difficult to change a parent’s values. If they value a different experience somewhere else (this could be from a myriad of reasons), then there is almost nothing you can do to change their values. Regardless, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try!

The only way to win the retention game is to provide an exceptional educational experience that is worth it for the family where they value the continued enrollment for their child. When parents experience value and it aligns with their values, they will stay and pay. Your retention strategy should be focused on how you do school every single day.

Two Key Questions

As we continue to move through the early months of 2022, it remains to be seen what will happen in our world with the continued presence of the pandemic, the rising inflation rate,  and the potential for another economic recession similar to what we experienced in 2008.

You must be willing to answer these two questions as you work to position your school for this year and beyond:

Will you take advantage of the current environment by continuing to aggressively market your school from your position of strength?

Will you focus on the everyday educational experience at your school by providing value that will inspire parents to continue their child’s enrollment?

There is nothing certain about 2022. The only things in your control are the choices you make and the strategies you implement at your school.