From The Yield, Spring 2014
The Enrollment Management Association’s Market Data Mine
by EMA's Aimee Gruber
I often visit member schools and meet with admission professionals. Depending on the time of year, our conversations gravitate toward data that can be presented to heads and boards. Obviously every board – just like every school – is different, and what they want and need to know about the admission landscape differs accordingly. Sometimes data illustrate how well a school is doing, and sometimes data offer important context when the picture isn’t as positive.
Case in point: I have received countless requests for copies of the Spring 2012 Memberanda cover article, “Where Have All the Inquiries Gone?” from admission directors who need to help their boards understand that a decline in inquiries wasn’t indicative of poor job performance, lack of marketing, or anything else that they had or hadn’t done, but rather reflective of an industry-wide trend. Additionally, last year’s State of the Independent School Admission Industry report contained important funnel information and charts that further illuminated the changing admission funnel.
Hopefully you are availing yourself of The Enrollment Management Association’s member magazine, special reports, webinars, and other featured items — all publicly available on admission.org — in order to maintain a perspective on the larger marketplace and to learn about current and future trends. In addition, there are valuable data points related to the SSAT that many of your colleagues utilize in board reports.
Information such as overall score report volumes, changes in scores, comparisons of scores via those students who were accepted and/or enrolled at your school, and the number of score reporters vis-à-vis sending region and/or country are all important market indicators.
Probably the most underutilized SSAT data are contained in your school’s Shared Candidate Reports. These reports can be found in your Member Access Portal under the “Resources” tab, and date back as far as 2003. While many schools believe they already know the schools with which they cross over, these reports provide quantitative evidence of the other schools to which students are applying—or at least where they have sent their SSAT scores.
For some boarding schools, the report illustrates the regional nature of boarding schools. In such cases, the majority (if not all) of the crossover schools are located in the same state or an adjacent state. I recall presenting to the leadership team at one Catholic boarding school who believed that their crossover schools would also be Catholic schools. Instead, their Shared Candidate Report showed that location (schools in the same state) seemed to be the common denominator. This, of course, inspired questions about their upcoming recruitment travel. Should they capitalize on location, which seemed to be the draw, or focus more attention on promoting that they are a Catholic boarding school?
In addition, because of their annual nature, Shared Candidate Reports offer a window into how your crossover schools have changed over time. Here are a few examples of data that Peter Gilbert, Salisbury School (CT), has gleaned and reported on from these reports:
• Number of score reports sent to Salisbury have doubled since 2008 — school size has remained constant
• More than half of students who send score reports to Salisbury sent reports to 5+ schools, illustrating how competitive the boarding school market is
• Last year, Salisbury crossed over with 238 other EMA member schools — in 2008 this number was 159
• Nearly all of Salisbury’s top 20 crossover schools are also in Connecticut or an adjacent state
Financial Aid Reporting with SSS – Turning Angst into Opportunity
by Alisa Evans
A colleague recently received word that she would be presenting to her board about the status of the financial aid program. “What reports do I share with them?” she asked. My response to her was that she should never go to a board meeting without data and a challenge. So, she shared the two most troublesome issues facing her today:
1. We never have enough aid to offer.
2. Existing full pay families are increasingly asking for
aid, leaving fewer funds for new families.
First, we created a year-end award chart (by income range and by average award), which simply showed how much aid was allocated that season. In this case, we used total income and awards granted, and added in a column for income ranges. Using that data, the chart was completed in only a few minutes after a quick export from reporting within the SSS system. Next, we focused on telling a compelling story. I often use my colleague Mark Mitchell’s technique for developing such a story, which he calls the 4 Cs:
1. Criteria: Where do you want to be and what does that look like?
2. Condition: Describe the situation as it currently stands. If perfect looks like “Z” and our current condition looks like “A,” we have a long way to go.
3. Cause: Why is your current condition the way it is? This is where data gathering and storytelling converge.
4. Change: Once you identify the ideal state, compare it to where you are, and then examine why you’re there, you can advocate for a change agenda to move you closer to the ideal state.
While these are the building blocks for creating an engaging board level discussion, financial aid professionals still need to gather the appropriate data. This is where SSS can help.
First, we created a quick report to confirm my colleague’s suspicion that over the past few years, the number of existing full-pay families applying for aid has increased. To do this, we ran a multi-year report using applicant status (new, returning, and returning/new to aid) and put it into a pivot table by status and year. The chart showed that each year since 2010, the amount of “returning/new to aid” applicants was increasing at a rate of 15%. Feeling much better about her suspicion, we now needed to determine a cause for the trend.
Many of the former full-pay families were now applying for aid, and they continually cited the increasing cost of tuition as the reason. We reviewed the past few years’ numbers and confirmed that the school had in fact increased tuition an average of 5% each year since 2010. I suggested we look at what income level it takes to generally afford the tuition during each year it was increased. Much to her surprise, the amount needed to cover tuition was well above most of these families’ incomes. It was clear that these families had been struggling for as long as they could. By about year three or four, they were no longer able to afford the tuition.
Since the income of the average family increases by about 2% annually, the school’s tuition increases were essentially outpacing them. To continue leading the conversation with her board, my colleague offered a solution — maintain a separate budget for this group. If the board intended to increase tuition again by 5%, it needed to allocate additional budget monies for financial aid specifically designated for this subset of families. Financial aid for new families would then no longer be as impacted by this group.