10 Factors that Affect Private School Enrollment Growth

Have you ever thought about the reasons why some private schools experience enrollment growth and why others decline?

School leaders primarily call me because they either want to make sure their school continues to grow (or even remain full), or they need to turnaround a flat or declining enrollment. I address these issues through my Enrollment Catalyst Program.

If you were developing a theory of school growth, what would you propose as the most important factors that influence enrollment growth?

Based on my experiences in working with private, independent, and faith-based schools throughout the country, I believe that there are multiple factors that contribute to enrollment growth and decline at a school. Let me highlight ten of these factors for you:

1—Leadership – The vision, drive, and personality of the leadership (primarily the head of school) will affect the enrollment. I have seen this over and over again from both the positive and negative perspectives. Bennis and Nanus, leadership gurus, believe that “leadership is the pivotal force behind successful organizations” (Leaders: Strategies for Taking Charge). I believe that leadership is the pivotal force behind successful, thriving schools.

2—Quality School Experience – One of the most important factors in school growth is the overall quality of the experience. Parents are investing significant resources to provide the very best education for their child and because of this, they expect the best. A high-quality experience must be integrated throughout your school in order to grow your enrollment.

3—Vision and School Improvement – Whether it’s the addition of a new iPad one-to-one initiative or the construction of a state-of-the-art athletic complex, vision and school improvement in strategic areas can have an impact on enrollment growth. One of the key responsibilities of the board and head of school is to develop the school’s vision and to always work towards quality improvements. A growing school is one that creates excitement and energy through the vision and its successful implementation. It has been said that “Vision without implementation is hallucination.”

4—Faculty and Staff – Your faculty and staff are one of the most important, if not the most important factor that will affect enrollment growth. They should be the primary connection that a family makes with your school. These educators will be the ones to teach and mentor students. When they deliver a high-quality educational experience and personally connect with the students and families in a positive way, this experience will impact enrollment. Your faculty and staff are the “stars” of your school. If they shine, then your enrollment will shine.

5—Parent Satisfaction – When parents are satisfied, there are at least two primary results that affect enrollment. First, satisfied parents will lead to strong retention. A strong retention rate obviously leads to increased enrollment. Secondly, satisfied parents will tell their friends about your school. This is positive word-of-mouth working in your favor. You won’t be able to grow your school without parent satisfaction and positive word-of-mouth. This is one of the three key ingredients to a healthy school.

6—Reputation – The experiences of parents, students, graduates, faculty, staff, and donors will fuel word-of-mouth, whether positive or negative, in your community. In turn, this will create the reputation, and word out on the street, about your school. This general buzz and reputation in the community will affect enrollment.

7—Demographics, Location, and Price – Your local community demographics, the location of your school and the tuition price will have a significant impact on enrollment. Can the families in your community afford the tuition price of your school? Are there families in your community that support the idea of a private school for their children? When looking at ways to grow your school it is important to consider your demographics, location and price. Unless you move your school to another community, you can really only deal with the issue of price. Because of concerns with the economy and increased tuition rates in private schools, it is critical to examine your pricing strategy in light of future sustainability.

8—Environmental Issues – The world around you can affect your school’s enrollment. From the COVID bump in enrollment that many schools experienced to issues relating to an economic recession, your school will be affected by what is happening around you. And, with these issues, you don’t have any control except for how your school responds.

9—Competition – One of the issues facing private schools today is the increased competition from other schools. Private schools face a very competitive market. Besides competition with other private schools, public schools are working to increase quality by providing specialized, magnet and I.B. opportunities. In addition, charter schools are providing a free “private school” experience. This creates competition and school shopping from our limited demographic pool in our community.

10—Marketing and Enrollment Plan/Strategies – It makes sense that every school should have a marketing and enrollment plan. However, whenever I ask this question to a group at any conference, most don’t have one. With an intentional marketing and enrollment plan, you will be able to implement specific strategies that will impact your school’s growth.

While there may be other factors that influence growth, I believe that these have the greatest impact on enrollment at a private school. In fact, if I could go back and write my dissertation all over again (by the way, I would never do this!), this would be a great research topic.

What are the factors affecting enrollment growth at your school?

What do you need to do to increase your school’s opportunity to grow?

If you are interested in a free consultation to discuss your school’s needs as well as how I can best partner with your team, please reach out to me. I would be glad to discuss your situation and how my Enrollment Catalyst Program can help you continue to reach your enrollment goals or turnaround your school.