by Craig Tredenick, Director of Enrollment Management, All Saints’ Episcopal School (TX)
As we work through the most critical time of the admission season, it is a great opportunity to evaluate current retention practices and to remind ourselves of the importance of cultivating affirmation with our families as to why they chose to join our schools.
We should never take any family’s commitment to our schools for granted, especially given the current economic landscape that has adversely affected the ability of many to afford the cost of attendance at an independent school. This, coupled with the saturation of the marketplace in terms of educational options, makes it critically important to continue to illustrate a value-added component to what we are offering. In short, we are better positioned if we investigate all opportunities that will serve as affirmations for families about why they chose our school in the first place.
Moreover, as you work with families through the re-enrollment period, consider the negative impact a disgruntled family has on the culture of your school—it is often significant. Therefore, facilitating connections between those families and the school will yield better results than simply writing them off. Creating a culture of awareness will foster a greater level of communication, thus putting your team in a position to be more proactive with retention tactics.
Consider the following as the foundation for your retention program:
- Build Networks Parents, Students, and Alumni—You can never have too many ambassadors! Your ambassador program should extend beyond volunteerism and outreach to prospective families. Inspire this group so that they are your soldiers on the ground and arm them with the information and resources they need to identify potential attrition risks. Faculty—Find time to engage your faculty in conversations about retention.
Schedule formal/informal events designed to elicit feedback regarding theirclassroom experiences as well as to establish a working relationship with
the admission team.
- Celebrate Your Community Independent schools do a fantastic job of communicating with families. However, consider the impact a note to a student’s parents (describing something the student has done that ultimately makes the school a better place) from a teacher who does not teach their son or daughter can have (and not only when something good or bad has occurred academically). Coordinating a school-wide effort during the reenrollment period can be time consuming, but the results can be significant for the culture of the school.
- Offer “Look Ahead” Opportunities Whether you do a step-up day, hold information coffees, offer a preview night, or hold an event that invites families to pull back the curtain and experience all the exciting things going on at your school, every current family should be afforded the opportunity to experience what the next step in the journey entails. Above all, they should leave any event knowing they cannot find the same educational experience elsewhere. For example, by encouraging the family of a first grader to experience what the middle school math class is doing, you are facilitating a looking-ahead mindset as well as providing the ability for your families to speak firsthand about the school, thus enhancing your word-of-mouth marketing efforts.
- Retention Task Force (RTF) Invite faculty members to participate in the retention process and use this Retention Task Force (RTF) as an opportunity to gather feedback about students and discuss strategies that can be implemented. The RTF should also be used as a vehicle for information sharing. You will immediately find that this group will disseminate what is discussed (when appropriate) in a manner that can be critically important when those retention moments surface.
- Solicit Feedback & Share Progress An annual survey, a series of focus groups, student (new and returning) lunches, and informal conversation are great ways to keep your current families plugged in, while also illustrating that their feedback is necessary and encouraged. Beyond the actual feedback you receive (because measuring satisfaction is critical), these forms of outreach always help perpetuate a close-knit community. Once gathered and reviewed, consider which information to share with your community, and plan a State of School event that provides those in attendance with information and an outlook for the school they could not receive elsewhere. This is an exciting time of year and a great opportunity to build momentum. Celebrate all that makes your community so special, and engage those who have illustrated their support. Go beyond keeping your current families enrolled—affirm their initial decision and keep them both connected and engaged!
As your team builds your retention program, be mindful of the following:
Though the ultimate goal is to retain each and every mission-appropriate family, the focus of your retention program should be to save one family who would have otherwise become an attrition statistic had the program not strengthened the family’s connection to the school. Start small and build some momentum. The relevance of your school’s “why” has never been more important. Continue to identify individual connections between your “why” and the families enrolled, while building awareness with all of your constituencies.