Two Reasons Why Families (Might) Leave Your School

Source Newsletter for Advancement Header Image
Source Newsletter for Advancement Header Image


January 13, 2016

It’s January, which means there’s a fresh crop of potential student applications piled on your desk, waiting to be evaluated. While you’re combing through these forms, you’ve got a second form of recruitment this spring to remember: Re-recruitment. Just because your students currently attend your school doesn’t mean that they’ll automatically plan to return this fall. Here, then, are two reasons why families may choose not to re-enroll at your school for the 2016-2017 academic year.

#1 Safety Concerns

ISM research has shown year after year that the primary reason parents enroll their children into a private-independent school program is for the physical and psychological safety of the student. A family that feels their child’s health and wellbeing is at risk in any way will leave.

For example, if the (previously peaceful) neighborhood in which the school’s campus is located experiences a sudden rash of violent crime, the family may feel that the child may come into contact with dangerous elements—particularly if the child has extracurricular activities that keep him/her on campus during evening hours. Perhaps a child’s mental safety is at risk. This could happen through perceived bullying by classmates or teachers, or a heavier workload that causes psychological distress and anxiety.

In these examples, the school must be seen by its constituents as protecting its students from perceived dangers. Hiring security guards and installing surveillance cameras around campus could help reassure parents of their children’s physical safety. Children’s mental security could be safeguarded through a school psychologist or conflict-resolution policies that correct the root issues of the problems.

#2 Financial Reasons

Should you ask a departing family why they’ve chosen to leave your school, they may tell you that they simply can’t afford your tuition or fees. But, by taking that answer at face value, you may lose valuable information that could help retain those families.

After all, these families could initially afford your institution and found your academic program worth the investment. Otherwise, they would not have accepted your original offer of admission. Either they no longer believe that your school is worth the program’s expenses, or there has been a dramatic shift in the family's financial situation.

If parents no longer believe investing in their children’s education at your school is in their best interest, there has been a miscommunication in marketing your school’s “value proposition.” In other words, after you moved students through the admission process, there was a failure to remind your community of what makes your school great. It becomes the new “normal” academic experience for the student, rather than “exceptional”—and families pay for the latter.

If, however, families still believe in the education their children are receiving at your school but truly lack the funds to pay for it, then perhaps there has been miscommunication of a different sort. They may be unaware of how your school supports families with temporary financial assistance through “rainy day financial aid.” Maybe they believe that, since they did not qualify for aid when the child was initially admitted, such assistance is permanently "off the table" in future years.

Either way, should families be leaving your school due to financial reasons, the greater problem may be a lack of communication rather than a lack of funds.

There are other reasons why your students may not re-enroll next year, and we’ll talk more about them in the next issue. However, we can’t say for sure why students may be leaving your unique school. For that, you’ll need a greater set of insights than we can provide in a broad overview like this article. Give your families a chance to offer you anonymous feedback to better serve the broader school community through third-party surveys—like those offered by ISM, specifically designed for departing families—and know how you can better retain your current students.

Additional ISM resources:
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


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