Ontario Christian Schools (OCS) in Ontario, California has been enrolling an annual average of 200 new students for several years following a number of changes to its policies and procedures.
“It’s been a great journey,” says director of admissions Dianne De Groot. “We have been blessed.”
The most significant alteration at the school has been the development of a position focused on student recruitment and retention, a role De Groot took on 15 years ago.
At the time, OCS was experiencing a drop in student numbers as families in the agricultural business were leaving the area.
The school board decided to open admission to Christian families without a Dutch Reformed heritage.
De Groot began to raise awareness outside the traditional Reformed churches that the school had spaces for students. She advertised in newspapers and distributed literature on the school to area churches, among other activities.
She also surveyed the local community to learn how they viewed the school and then, in partnership with the school board and faculty, took steps to enhance that image.
“We started to have a diverse group apply,” says De Groot.
The original 99 per cent of the school population with a Dutch heritage has since dropped to about 16 percent while the rest of the students come from a combination of the 266 churches in the region.
The school has grown from about 800 students 15 years ago to about 1,400. De Groot notes word of mouth has been an important factor in that increase as well.
School families have to be of the Christian or Catholic faith and attending church regularly. OCS also includes a policy to protect the Reformed aspect of the school’s Bible teaching.
While De Groot highlights a mix of factors in the school’s success, she emphasizes that having the right person in the school’s admissions position as most important.
“It’s not only having a person there, it’s having the right person,” she says, noting she was a very unlikely candidate when she was asked to take on the role at OCS. A volunteer mother, she had no training in development work.
However, a school board member suggested De Groot consider the position because of her passion for Christian education and the school.
De Groot agrees passion is the critical element in the success of student recruitment for Christian schools.
“I’ve seen it over and over again. You don’t necessarily have to be trained in a formal marketing role to be effective in this. What you do have to have is a passion for Christian education and your school in particular and obviously a relationship with the Lord that’s alive, as well as the willingness to just use your instincts.”
De Groot says her vision for Christian education today is to see schools thrive in the face of adversity as well as for all those involved to have a genuine appreciation and passion for Christian schools.
“It’s that passion that I find is lacking,” she notes, adding that if people in Christian schooling begin to live from the perspective that their work is a ministry, rather than just a job, “it opens up so many doors for them to be effective in so many different ways.”
De Groot presented on student recruitment and retention at the Ontario Christian School Administrators Association conference recently.