With the onset of spring, forward thinking independent schools are taking a hard look at just how effective their admissions engagement strategies have been this past year. Having recently returned from the NAIS (National Association of Independent Schools) annual conference in San Francisco, many of the conversations that I had with Heads of School, Directors of Admissions and Communications centered on enrollment.

Two prominent themes emerged from these conversations. Enrollment in K-8 is lagging and engaging full pay families has become more challenging. As the cost of an independent school education continues to rise and with the proliferation of well-funded charter schools and strong public schools in some communities, independent schools are feeling some pain.

To successfully address these challenges your school needs a cohesive admissions engagement strategy. As part of your internal strategy discussions you should be asking and answering the following questions.

  1. Have you clearly articulated your value proposition to prospective families and families currently enrolled?
    1. “Mission and vision are not enough…the value proposition is intended to overcome financial reservations by translating the mission and vision statements into language that will make more sense to hesitant buyers.” – NAIS Knowledge Center
  1. When was the last time that you conducted marketing research (both qualitative and quantitative) that addressed these points?
    1. Can a portion of affluent public school parents in your community be converted to an independent school?
    2. Do you understand the current opinions, attitudes and general mindset of parents toward public schools?
    3. Do affluent public school parents see any value in independent schools? What triggers would cause them to make a switch to your independent school?
    4. Are common core and standardized testing new pain points for young families? Would a customizable curriculum at an independent school be enough to attract those on the fence?
    5. Do you understand why some families may defer independent school until middle and/or high school?
    6. Have you discovered if families are price sensitive and if there is a tuition threshold that would get them in the door?
  1. Do you have measureable admissions engagement strategies that move prospective families through your admissions funnel?
    1. Your Board of Trustees will most likely want to see specific metrics that measure the effectiveness of your admissions marketing. Later this month I’ll address this is more detail and offer specific suggestions for your school to consider.

Once you have the answers to these questions you will be in a strong position to take an honest look at your admissions engagement strategy. Don’t be afraid to “speak truth to power” and challenge your internal thinking. What might have worked two-three years ago may no longer suffice.

Moving a prospective family through the admissions engagement funnel is a process that won’t happen quickly. You will need an ongoing, engaging plan that has multiple touch points, is highly measureable and gives you the opportunity to micro target your messaging. A successful strategy which is fine tuned on a regular basis will best serve your school’s needs.

Jonathan Oleisky is President of Kalix Communications