Head of School Podcast: Framing the Problem [S1.E1]

June 3, 2020 Hans Mundahl

“I don’t know” those can be scary words to say, especially as a head of school. It’s funny, but it’s almost like the only person in a learning community who isn’t allowed to be a learner is the head of school. I hope that’s not your experience, hopefully you are at a school where you can be fully you, where your community embraces all of you, even the times when you say those words, “I don’t know.” Even if that’s the case you still have a limited amount of time until the next thing comes up that needs your attention. That’s where we come in.
Welcome to EMA’s Head of School Podcast: where we cover the most important enrollment management topics tailored for heads of school. In every episode we’ll cover a couple of high level topics along with a question or reflection you can bring back to your team. Let’s get started.
There are powerful external forces shaping independent school enrollment. Some of these forces are big, some small, but most of them are outside of our control. Concerns are rising for schools who rely on tuition revenue for a large portion of their revenue. With full pay families increasingly harder to find, and more and more families requesting financial aid we need to look seriously at long-term enrollment strategies.
One place we can look is to higher ed. Over the last few decades small colleges and universities have come under increasing pressure. Since 2007, 72 institutions have shut down. And there were a few common factors impacting each of these schools. The schools tended to be small (in this case under 1000 students), didn’t have an online degree program (in other words they didn’t have a diverse revenue stream), they had tuition discount rates greater than 35 percent, and they were spending more money each year than they brought in.
The small colleges and universities who are thriving in this environment are ones who have done two broad things: first of all they became very very good at finding and filling a specific need. They also moved away from an ‘admission’ model to an ‘enrollment management’ model.
We recently spoke with  Mark Sklarow the CEO of the Independent Educational Consultants Association also known as the IECA about how small colleges are differentiating themselves in the market.  
There is no doubt the independent school industry will also be challenged in the coming years. A common rule of thumb in calculating financial aid is the 10% rule: a family should be able to contribute roughly 10% of their income toward tuition. If your tuition is $50k that means anyone making below $1million per year might not be a full-pay family.
There are other headwinds. Demographics don’t look good in the coming years with the northeast and midwest impacted worse than others. 
But in all of this bad news there are some opportunities: There is some growth in school-age children who are not traditionally enrolled in independent schools: more than half of U.S. children are expected to be part of a minority race/ethnic group… by 2020 [and] the U.S. population as a whole is expected to follow a similar trend, becoming majority-minority in 2044.
And a recent study found that, if given the choice to obtain the best education for their child, a large percentage of families would choose private schools. Yet the reality is that only a small percent have actually enrolled their child in a private school. Of course, affordability is likely the number one factor, but we shouldn’t discount lack of knowledge about independent schools or a lack of understanding about how independent schools are different from each other or from the free local public school.
Inside the world of independent school admission, it’s time for a major shift in perspective, and higher education can teach us a great deal about using an enrollment management model. Indeed, the story of higher education’s journey to a different model for managing enrollment is useful in building a case for change in the independent school community. As colleges and universities have learned, for strategic enrollment management to function effectively it must encompass all aspects of the student journey.
I believe independent schools will survive and thrive well into the future when admission offices push beyond their conventional focus of acquiring new students and become more strategically focused on the marketplace and all the drivers that contribute to steady, long-term enrollment success.
And we’ll be digging much deeper into how schools can do that in the rest of Season 1.
Hey - thanks for listening to episode one of EMA’s Head of School Podcast.
  • Today’s episode is based on EMA’s special report What Every Head Needs to Know About Enrollment Management. You can find the full report at www.enrollment.org. 
  • This episode was produced by me, Hans Mundahl, with help from Peter Baron. 
  • Check out The Enrollment Management Spectrum Podcast for long-form interviews with scholars, practitioners, and experts in the enrollment management industry. 
Before we close here is a question you can explore with your Enrollment Management leader, board, or leadership team: “Do you think we take more of an admission approach or more of an enrollment management approach? What’s working and what isn’t?”
Thanks for listening, I hope you have the chance to be creative today.

About the Author

Hans Mundahl

Hans Mundahl is the Director of Professional Development at EMA. He has been an educator since 1995 when he first stepped into the classroom as a Fulbright exchange teacher in the former East Germany. Since then Hans has done just about every job possible at an independent school from teacher to administrator. Most recently Hans was the head of school at a K-8 day school in central New Hampshire. Hans’s spare time is usually spent with his family but he is also passionate about the outdoors and protecting the environment.

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Previous Podcast
Introducing the Heads Podcast [Ep.63]
Introducing the Heads Podcast [Ep.63]

A conversation with Peter & Hans.

Next Podcast
Head of School Podcast: What Is Enrollment Management [S1.E2]
Head of School Podcast: What Is Enrollment Management [S1.E2]

What every head needs to know about enrollment management.