Rick Newberry points to Indian Rocks Christian School in Largo, Florida, as a school enrolment success story. After a five-year enrolment decline, the school turned things around to see an increase in recruitment and retention.
Newberry, president of Enrollment Catalyst, says when Indian Rocks Christian School contacted him in October 2010 they had declined over five years from 930 to 693 students.
Enrollment Catalyst partners with schools to provide annual strategic planning and coaching for enrolment management and marketing systems.
Working with the school, goals were put in place and an assessment and parent survey conducted. A key piece was hiring a full-time director of enrolment and marketing, says Newberry.
By August 2011, the school had experienced a three to four per cent overall enrolment increase, and a 50 per cent new student enrolment increase. The retention rate also rose from 83 to 86 per cent.
“It was the result of being aggressive (and) taking some risks,” Newberry tells the OACS News, adding he still meets with the school.
Through Christian Schools International, Newberry led an hour-long webinar Feb. 15 on effective recruitment strategies to enrol new families.
Geared towards administrators, board members, admissions counsellors and marketing co-ordinators, Newberry shared how marketing has changed significantly with the web and social media.
“I hope (attendees) took away the importance of focusing in their strategies in word-of-mouth marketing and web-based marketing because that’s where it will make a difference in their enrolment efforts for new families,” he says.
Schools should build a recruitment plan and look at where their marketing and enrolment budget is being spent. He suggests most schools should be spending more than what they currently are, and look at allocating two to three per cent of their overall marketing budget.
He explored strategies for generating inquiries such as asking for referrals, putting a “tell a friend” link on your website, and encouraging story sharing.
Websites are the most important marketing and communications tool for today’s school, he noted. Ways to increase online presence and search engine optimization (SEO) were presented
He says if schools begin implementing some of the ideas he shared they will see the return.
Economic issues of price and affordability is a top challenge for schools, he says.
“Financial aid is certainly a key part of what a school can have to offer, being able to meet an individual family’s needs to help them afford a private Christian education,” he says.
Just like businesses employ sales associates, having someone on a school’s staff to lead the sales process is an important resource and an investment that can pay off, he says.
When asked what enrolment trends he is seeing that provide hope for the future of independent education Newberry says it is quality schools investing in quality programs, and in this case Christian schools committed to integrating faith with learning.
“There’s certainly still a market for that and parents are willing to pay for a good school for their child or children,” he says.
“I’m seeing that it doesn’t have to be a decline in enrolment, that schools can grow even during a difficult economy. It just takes leadership who is going to be committed to making sure that we have quality programs in place and we are providing the best education that we can.
The webinar was the final of three Newberry presented for Christian Schools International. People interested to learn more can subscribe to his blog.