Three years ago, our parent survey, published in the report The Ride to Independent Schools, aimed to get to the heart of these questions critical to the work of admission and enrollment professionals. The findings shaped much of our thinking since that time. The most pivotal findings related to families’ desires for a highly personalized application experience and the degree to which a complex application process can be a deterrent to enrollment. In the last three years, we have continued to witness advances in technology and in the influence of social media. Our economy has continued to recover, if slowly. The education market has shifted, as new schooling options and interest in international education have continued to explode. We have also seen significant changes in our nation’s political environment.
To see how these and other changes have impacted the family experience of considering an independent education for their children, we conducted the follow-up survey detailed in the pages that follow. The survey builds on many of the same questions we asked three years ago but also includes new ones. These new questions dig into important areas such as international families’ motivations and concerns, and the role that financial aid plays in admission.
What are the overall takeaways, and how can we use these new findings to improve what we do?
We see a slight uptick in the percentage of families who used a common application service. There are other signs that as an industry we are seeing moderate progress in making the admission process smoother and more personalized.
The survey also confirms what will come as no surprise: affordability is a key hurdle to application and enrollment. For 90% of parents who applied for financial aid, its availability plays an extremely or very important role in the decision to apply to a school. Even before applying, 62% of all survey respondents expressed a concern about affordability. So at the same time that we tackle the bigger questions of rising tuition and costs, there are steps we can take in our day-to-day admission efforts to help families understand affordability options.
The survey responses by international families shed light on the experience of a group that plays an increasingly important part in our schools’ enrollment picture. Not surprisingly, international families are not as able as others to come to campus. They also have concerns about both cultural issues and the application process. How can we make our schools and values come alive and our application processes clearer to these applicants?
Finally, what I see as an affirming trend revealed in this survey is that of family commitment to an independent education. Families who apply to our schools are extremely or very committed, even in their earliest stages—77% before doing school research and 86% after school visits. If we can get more families to the point of researching our schools—that is, filling the “top of our funnel”—can we not get closer to meeting our goals to increase and sustain enrollment?
Parents making the choice to either start or continue their child’s private school education are by and large seeking an education that will challenge their children and foster a love of learning. In addition, they (92% of them!) want to develop a strong moral character in their children. I believe our schools are strongly positioned to do so. We have incredible stories to tell about the character-building and enriching academic environments in our schools. The more we can provide families with clear, authentic, and personal views into our schools, the more we can help them carry out their commitment to finding the right school for their children.
We look forward to being your partner in this endeavor, for as you will hear me echo throughout the year, we believe that when great schools enroll great students, everything is possible.