Improving student retention benefits every school employee, and should be an objective of every member of your faculty and staff. Understanding the reasons that families leave schools, combined with some useful methods for boosting re-enrollment, will help your school build a stable and sustainable future.
Reasons Families Leave
Physical and psychological safety is the leading reason parents enroll their children in private or independent schools, according to research by Independent School Management. Therefore, if a family feels that their child is at risk in any way – from crime in the local neighborhood, for example, or bullies on campus – they will go elsewhere.
Safety may already be a top priority at your school, but it’s important to make sure that your families and students know that they are protected. Review your current policies often and offer your enrolled families an opportunity to discuss school safety with staff members. Families should never doubt that their children are secure at school.
Another common theme among families who leave private or independent schools is that they can no longer afford tuition.
This might be an abrupt conversation-ender between your school and the departing family. A few tactful questions, however, could provide important information to aid your retention efforts.
Families typically say that they cannot afford tuition for one of two reasons: they no longer believe that your school is worth the expense, or their family’s financial outlook has changed significantly.
The first reason infers that parents expect an exceptional educational experience for their tuition dollar – and those expectations have not been met. According to a report on private school enrollment decline by Michigan State of Opportunity, “families that leave private school for public school are the ones that found only a little benefit to private school when compared to tuition.”
If the family truly does not have the funds to remain with your school, a different discussion might be in order. Their student might be eligible for scholarships or temporary aid that was unnecessary when they enrolled. Incorporating these financial options is simple with the right tuition management system and can improve retention.
3) Student Satisfaction
Successful retention involves students as well as parents, especially in later grades.
Students expect to have a voice in their educational future as they mature, and their opinion becomes increasingly valuable in a family’s decision-making process as they choose whether to re-enroll.
If a student is unhappy with your school, take the time to find out why. The problem might be temporary – not making a sports team, struggling with a subject, friction with a teacher, etc. – and easily addressed before it affects retention.
Sometimes student’s dissatisfaction is related to more significant issues, such as shifting educational needs or priorities that your school is not equipped to address. In these cases, ISR says that the best course of action might be to simply facilitate a transfer elsewhere. After all, the ultimate goal of enrollment and retention is to do what’s best for the student, which might mean parting ways.
3 Ways to Retain Families
1) Customer Service
Any business that cultivates a positive and productive working environment is more likely to retain customers, employees, and working relationships with vendors. This principle also applies to schools. Enrolled families who are happy with the quality of your education and community are more likely to re-enroll and even become ambassadors for other families on your behalf.
Your School Marketing suggests keeping a “customer service” mindset when dealing with enrolled families. Treat them how like you would like to be treated if you were shopping for a new car or a high-end product. Make them feel appreciated not just when they first enroll, but at every moment you can. And keep them in the loop with frequent updates and access to their student’s activities.
2) Make Retention Someone’s Job
Understanding why families choose to leave your school can help you to address their issues and prevent others from leaving for the same reasons.
NCEA recommends making retention an official task for a member of your team. This person can answer families’ questions and show that you are serious about alleviating their concerns.
Your point person for retention should not be involved in grading, discipline or tuition collection, which could make parents nervous about approaching him or her. As a (somewhat) neutral party, your “retention coordinator” could reduce the number of departing students and provide insight on issues that might be keeping other families from signing up.
Increased options for schooling and competition for students means that families need to be reminded why they enrolled with you in the first place.
Marketing to current families is crucial during the re-enrollment process. Enrollment Catalyst suggests a number of ways to champion retention through internal marketing. Schools can include a newsletter touting recent school highlights in the re-enrollment packet, send personal letters to families who are on the fence, make phone calls, schedule one-on-one meetings and more.
To maximize these strategies, target families transitioning between lower, middle and upper grades, and schedule your marketing efforts before enrollment season to get families on board.