Successful retention for your school depends on and draws from a strong marketing and enrollment plan. Enrollment management should be in place to work in tandem with a retention plan.
The overall goal of a retention plan is to contribute to your school’s reputation and provide an improved student experience, which ultimately makes students ambassadors for the school. Jerome A. Lucido, executive director for USC’s Center for Enrollment, Research, Policy and Practice (CERPP), discussed retention and the benefits of an organized process in a recent discussion titled “The Retention Organization” during the Leadership in Enrollment Management program. Lucido talked about the need to coordinate retention efforts to engage families not just through the first semester but continually, which leads to increased student persistence toward achieving a degree. It’s crucial to ensure families are involved and invested in marketing, branding, and strategic planning, which demonstrates the school’s commitment to partnering with families and continuing the relationship.
Don’t Forget Your Current Families! Communicating the Process
Provide touch points that allow for parents and students to be cultivated, particularly in transitions from one division (school) to another (i.e. 5th to 6th grade or 8th to 9th grade progression). These touch points can be a combination of email messaging, programming, course registration, and shadowing opportunities with students in the next grade level. There should also be a willingness to be flexible and customize these opportunities for families that have expressed a wish to explore other options or just need reassurance. Establish and maintain close contact with families who are slow to re-enroll and also communicate with school administrators regarding students who may be encountering academic and/or social difficulty.
Make the re-enrollment process as simple and straightforward as possible. Early education about the process (along with timelines) eases the minds of families and makes their planning less stressful. In all that you do, keep in mind that great customer service and authenticity are foremost to ensuring success in retaining students.
Have a good awareness of school culture as well as parent satisfaction with school administration and faculty. Know what’s being said about your school on social media, websites, and in the community.
The needs of financial aid recipients also play a big role in retention. Balancing the distribution of aid awards to each grade level and not just to entry points is extremely important. Educate families receiving assistance early on about what their award covers and does not cover, and explain access to any social equity or supplemental funding that may be available to help with programming, books, athletic and fine arts participation, etc.
Speaking to families who decide to depart can be uncomfortable, but their feedback can be invaluable. Exit interviews are critical and can provide information that can be helpful not only to your office but to school administrators and their teams. The exit interview can be conducted by your office or an outside consultant.
It’s all in the data: Planning/evaluating for next year
Having a good handle on retention is the cornerstone to determining space availability for the coming school year. It’s also the impetus for considerations regarding the mix of gender, ethnicities, socioeconomic status, and range of gifts and talents you’re aiming for at each grade level. Close contact with division heads gives you access to planning for curriculum and/or policy changes that may affect students and families.
At the end of re-enrollment, allow a period of reflection. Look into who left and why, and analyze trends in attrition. Be able to provide statistical and supporting anecdotal information to your head of school and board prior to a new recruitment season. Although data should be analyzed yearly, your retention plan and enrollment management plan evaluation processes should coincide with the evaluation of the school’s strategic plan.