February 10, 2016
In our last Source issue, we discussed two root causes why parents may choose to withdraw their children from your school: safety concerns and “financial reasons.” This month, we’d like to take a look at two more reasons why re-enrollment is a top priority for your Admission Office this spring. While these aren’t the only problems to watch out for and address during your re-recruitment, they’re certainly common enough to warrant special attention as you continue to court your currently enrolled families for the 2016-2017 academic year.
#3 Student Dissatisfaction
In the later grades, the “customer service culture” your school cultivates as part of a successful marketing program needs to accommodate not only the parent who signs the tuition check, but also the student who attends classes.
As students age and move through your academic program, they begin to have a greater say in their own educational planning. Should students feel that they are no longer happy with your school, they may insist on transferring to another school that they feel will better fulfill their needs—and their parents may be inclined to allow them to do so.
Should you sense that a student is no longer happy with your school, it’s vital to find out the reason why he or she feels that way. It could be a transient unhappiness, like a superficial dissatisfaction with the difficulty of a subject unit, an unhelpful/unsupportive teacher, or friction on a sports team. These sorts of problems can be resolved comparatively easily: proactively solicit student feedback and satisfaction levels so administrators can smooth out these bumps before they become re-enrollment issues.
On the other hand, the student’s unhappiness could stem from something more permanent, like a realization that his/her educational priorities or needs no longer align with the school’s mission and programming. Should such a disconnect be uncovered, it may be best to allow the student to transfer to a school that can better fulfill his or her needs. Re-enrollment should center around what’s best for the student—and that might mean letting the family leave.
Of course, families might really be leaving-leaving, as in leaving the area completely and for good. Moves aren’t always planned, and are often caused by circumstances beyond a family’s control.
A tuition contract is often written in such a way that the family is held fiscally liable for the entire bill, whether the student attends or not. Allowing a family to sacrifice just the deposit can be seen as a gesture of goodwill on the part of the school. Other community members see that the school will treat departing families “fairly,” rather than enforcing what could be misinterpreted as “unfair” policies.
Of course, each case will be different, and so ISM does not directly recommend taking this route for every departing student. However, the potential for good PR at comparatively little expense to the school is certainly worth considering, especially if the school has a robust waiting pool from which to select a "replacement" student.
Still, if you begin to notice a pattern of families moving away from your school’s area, dig deeper to determine why your community base is emigrating. Are families moving to a specific location, or are they moving away from your area? Are departing parents typically employed within the same general industry, and so could help you to identify transitory families early? Does your school’s mission and educational format appeal to families that don’t stick around long, for some reason?
Finding the answers to these questions helps you not only market to your target audience of prospective, mission-appropriate parents, but also aid in your re-enrollment efforts in the future.
Safety, money, happiness, and moving—these four scenarios mark the four corners of possible student attrition. Keeping an eye on these root problems boosts your re-enrollment efforts and enables greater retention year-over-year—should you notice the issue early enough to correct it.
Have we missed a major reason for attrition at your school? Share it in the comment section below—you may help another school learn what holes it needs to plug to better serve and retain its students.
Additional ISM resources:
The Source for Admission Directors Vol. 14 No. 5 Two Reasons Why Families (Might) Leave Your School
The Source for Admission Directors Vol. 11 No. 6 Exit Interviews and Attrition Surveys
The Source for School Heads Vol. 11 No. 1 Surveys: What You Really Know Makes You Stronger
Additional ISM resources for Gold Consortium members:
I&P Vol. 35 No. 8 Enter, Stay, Leave: A New Insight
I&P Vol. 34 No. 2 The ISM 37-School Parent Survey: Convenience Factors at Private-Independent Schools
I&P Vol. 37 No. 12 The True Amount of the 'Perceived Cost' of Attending Your School