The imminent holiday season may be consuming our collective time and resources right now, but those of us in the private school world know what’s coming just after the Christmas lights dim and the new year kicks in: reenrollment season.
If that thought causes you to shudder and stress, take heart: there are things you can (and should) do now to set your school up for greater school retention success when the time comes for parents make that commitment for another year.
We often tell our clients that re-enrollment begins with the first day of school. Truly, your team should have best practices in place to address retention all year long. After all, it costs an average of 5 times more to get a new customer than to keep a satisfied one. And since parents begin assessing your school’s value and worth pretty much from the moment the year begins, you had best be giving them ample reasons why their tuition investment is a wise one.
Here are five things you can do now that will help keep you ahead of the game come enrollment time:
With your admissions director and/or other administrators, meet with teachers and comb through the names of each and every student in your school that will be eligible for reenrollment. Work with the teachers to assign a “return likelihood” value, using what you know about the student and family to estimate their satisfaction. Whether it’s a percentage (75% likely to return) or a 1-to-5 scale measurement, ensure that every student on your roster has been considered.
This gives you a realistic view of where your enrollement likely stands for next year and where your focus should be in order to save potentially on-the-fence families from attrition. It also encourages your teachers to see their role in helping your school with retention. After all, they are on the front lines, daily interacting with the students. For many families, their children’s teachers are the face of your school. Encourage your teachers to do their best to truly “see” their students and reflect on these kids’ needs, struggles, successes, and gifts - and then to communicate what they see with the parents.
Speaking of communication: heads of school, teachers, and administrators need to make a concerted effort now to be connecting regularly with families. I’m not talking about bulk communication like e-newsletters and event reminders, either; rather, I mean you must connect through individual discussions.
Get to know your families: their concerns, their needs, their frustrations, and their joys. Yes, it may be hard to talk individually with 200 parents before the end of the year, but the aforementioned assessment should give you an idea of your high-priority contacts (those with a lower return likelihood). Set a goal for yourself for a number of parents you will call each week through the end of the year. Perhaps you can even make these contacts during holiday breaks, like one head of school we know who made 75 phone calls over his Christmas break. It may sound daunting, but his efforts made a huge difference. The school had a dramatic increase in its retention rates the following year, which was partially attributed to his work in connecting with families during the peak of retention season and showing that the school leader truly cares about the families.
That’s not to say that there’s no place for group communication. A solid, customized email nurturing campaign (using a management tool like Hubspot) for your current families can also be effective in helping them stay connected, realize the value of the school, and feel valued themselves. Social media is another useful tool to aid in family retention. By posting daily with pictures and stories of student/classroom life, offering up discussion topics, and sharing blog posts, you encourage parents to engage with you and each other, and you show them all the good that’s happening at school.
Or, rather, give your teachers and staff plenty of reasons to smile. Students and parents aren't the only ones your school leaders should strive to delight. Your teachers and staff should be part of that goal as well, because happy teachers make happy students (and happy students make happy parents).
Basically, this boils down to being a great leader for your team. Show them you care about them by being accessible, open, ready to listen, and quick to help where needed. I encourage you to give yourself an honest evaluation (or, if you're brave, ask a colleague to evaluate you) on how well you're taking care of the staff that's taking care of your students. When your teachers are thrilled with your school, their passion will trickle down to your families naturally.
Plan a community event after the new year to encourage early enrollment. You can frame it as a “state of the school” address, a re-enrollment rally, even a new year celebration, but the idea is the same – to provide another opportunity for face time with your families, to spread the good feelings about your school, and to give them a reason to make that enrollment decision early. Offer door prizes or other fun incentives to those who re-enroll on site, give a brief presentation on what’s new at the school or recent successes, and have a few parents or teachers (or even students) provide testimonies or inspiring stories from the year so far.
What if, instead of asking families whether they want to enroll for another year, you just assume they are going to stay unless they tell you otherwise? After all, schooling is usually a long-term commitment, and with other such investments – like your mortgage or car lease - you don't often get the question every year as to whether you will continue. Rather, you sign up for an agreed-upon time frame and keep the relationship going until the time frame expires,
It may not readily occur to you that by asking your families to reenroll each year, you are giving them pause as to whether they actually want to stay at your school, even if they are satisfied and never considered leaving up until that point. It may even cause second-guessing that would not have happened if you employed a continuous reenrollment plan.
Continuous reenrollment works on the belief that a family's educational choice is generally a long-term commitment for the duration of their child's schooling years. Asking whether they want to come back every year – and then requiring them to fill out stacks of forms and more - works against that concept. Instead, schools using continuous reenrollment only require action from parents who do NOT plan to return. After an established date, all families who have not opted out are just automatically re-enrolled for next year. Find out more about this concept here.
By putting these practices into place now before the end of the year, you will position yourself for a solid re-enrollment season and better retention in 2018.