Trustee Table Takeaways: Enrollment Management Trends for Independent Schools

Here are the top five takeaways from Episode 22 of the NAIS Trustee Table podcast, "Enrollment Management for 2021–Key Trends for Independent Schools." In this episode, Heather Hoerle, executive director and chief executive officer of The Enrollment Management Association, shares her observations on how the pandemic has affected independent school enrollment trends and what disruptors heads and boards should anticipate in the future.

Top Five Takeaways

  • What does the term enrollment management mean for independent schools? Enrollment management encompasses far more than admissions data. It is analyzing data across multiple areas, such as the student experience, demographics, marketing, and program branding to build a multipronged, holistic approach to understanding why families choose to attend, or leave, our schools.
  • Why are enrollment management practices of the past no longer sustainable? With the advent of digital marketing, the rulebook for enrollment management has changed. Schools that still invest heavily in viewbooks and admissions fairs are probably not seeing a big return on those investments. Families are experiencing so much more online, especially due to the pandemic, and that is not likely to change. Schools need to make sure their marketing tools and admissions processes are yielding students. If not, they need to abandon outdated practices and utilize new ones that will deliver desired results, especially in terms of recruitment.
  • What are the current trends in enrollment management? One macro trend has been the decrease of lower school enrollment in independent schools, and more interest in middle and upper school grades, as families wait to invest. Cost is another factor, as independent schools continue to compete with strong public schools. Another macro trend has been the decline of international student interest in U.S. independent schools, especially students from mainland China. For micro trends, place-based education was a priority for families last year, as independent schools saw a dramatic increase in applications at the end of last summer. As the pandemic continues, we may see another increase at the end of this summer as well. The big question becomes: will our schools be able to retain these families once the pandemic is over? The other micro trend is a more streamlined admissions process, as the admissions season has now become year-round.
  • What disruptors in the market should heads and board be aware of? The global pandemic/global health will remain a major disruptor, both now and in the future. The role of technology in K-12 education, particularly the increase in both homeschooling and learning pods, will be disruptors as well. Economics over the next few years will also be a disruptor, as we determine if another downturn is on the horizon.
  • What generative questions should boards be asking about enrollment management? Some questions boards should consider include: What are the special programs we have that could meet the challenge of these times? What does our school have to offer inside of this disruption? How might we innovate around new revenue streams? And how do we position ourselves today so that we are still viable in the future?