Identify Your Challenges and Establish Your Goals

I love to hike. During the summer months, my wife and I spend a lot of our time in northern Michigan hiking and biking on the trails of the Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes National Park. The views are incredible (the picture is a hike along Lake Michigan to the Treat Fam Trail to the Empire Bluff Trail). In fact, this park was voted as the most beautiful place in America by Good Morning America several years ago.

Every trail presents its own set of challenges to overcome. From the length of the hike to the elevation climb, the challenges vary depending on the route taken. Every trail also provides opportunities for goals that can be set and accomplished.

Your school’s enrollment marketing plan is similar to a hiking trail.

You should include a statement of the problems, or challenges to overcome, and the goals to reach. These two areas area closely related. As you identify your challenges, your goals will surface as you seek to turn these areas around to opportunities.

This is the second step in the development of your school’s plan, after you have completed your assessment in step one.

Identify Your Challenges

 Your enrollment marketing plan should include the problems or challenges that you want to overcome.

Every school has at least one problem or a challenge to solve (most have several!). I haven’t found a perfect school yet.

Let me give you some examples.

Example #1 – Retention Challenges – I recently conducted a three-day site visit at a large school in Colorado to address some retention challenges between 8th and 9th grades. This problem included an understanding of the reasons why students decided to leave after 8th grade. Why did some students choose to leave after 8thgrade? Is there anything that can be improved, changed, or implemented to keep them enrolled?

Example #2 – Enrollment Decline – A few months ago I began working with a school in Wisconsin that had experienced enrollment decline. Obviously, this problem was clear. This problem included identifying reasons why the enrollment had declined. By understanding these factors, the leadership can properly address this issue and move forward on a path towards growth.

Example #3 – Sustaining Full Enrollment – Many schools have experienced the COVID surge in enrollment, and some are full for the first time. The challenge is to make sure that the full enrollment can be sustained. After all, just because the enrollment is full now doesn’t guarantee that the school will be full and healthy next year.

While these three problems/challenges are examples, it is important to identify the unique problems and challenges in your school.

Establish Your Goals

Establishing your goals is closely related as it comes out of your assessment. You need to know where you have been to determine where you want to go.

Often, a problem or a challenge will drive you to establish goals to move your school forward.

Let’s take the examples of the problems I shared above.

With the retention challenge in the first example, it is important to set a specific goal to improve retention from 8th to 9th grade. This includes a goal to improve retention by specific percentage points.

With the enrollment decline in the second example, the goal is to grow the enrollment by identifying specific growth numbers to achieve. In some situations of decline, the goal may be just to remain flat the following year. And, often, this turnaround is focused on a specific growth objection.

And with sustaining full enrollment in the third example, there should be specific goals to continue to achieve this same level. Goals to increase the enrollment health, quality of the student enrollment, or other key objectives could be established.

In addition, an enrollment marketing plan should include specific enrollment goals. These numerical enrollment goals should not be your budget FTE numbers needed to balance your budget. Your enrollment goals should be marketing goals to drive you toward achieving the results you desire, which should hopefully be to exceed the budget. Make sure you don’t let your CFO determine your enrollment goal.

I believe that these goals should include the following:

  • Overall enrollment goal
  • Retention goal
  • New Student goal

These goals should also be specific to the grade levels and divisions of your school.

One final thought: Make sure your goals are challenging and realistic. Your goals should stretch you. However, your goals should also be achievable.

Have you clearly identified your problems and challenges?

Have you established your goals?

This key step will help you develop and implement strategies that will make a difference in your school’s enrollment marketing plan.